Former sex slave helps othersAlthough less than 150 centimeters (5 feet) high, Hwang Geum-ja, 82, is very clear about what she wants. “Since I already decided to make a donation, I want to spend it in style,” Ms. Hwang said. “I hope it can help children in need.”
Once a sex slave for the Japanese army, Ms. Hwang saved 40 million won ($43,010) from a monthly subsidy given to former sex slaves and other financial aid and donated that money to underprivileged students on Nov. 28.
Ms. Hwang has lived in a small state-owned apartment in Deungchon 3-dong, Gangseo district, for 13 years. She receives 740,000 won, an allowance given to former sex slaves, and 360,000 won in financial aid for low-income households, every month.
Ms. Hwang saved 700,000 won every month for the last five years to make the donation, spending only 300,000 won a month on food and utilities.
“I didn’t get many benefits from Korea and I lived an unhappy life, but I at least want for young students to be happy,” she said.
Born in 1924 in Hamggyeong province, Ms. Hwang worked as a housekeeper in Seoul until the age of 17, when she was taken by the Japanese to work in a glass factory in Heungnam, South Hamgyeong province, now part of North Korea. At 20, she was sent to Manchuria, China, to work as a sex slave.
After Korea became independent in 1945, she returned to Seoul, but the only thing she could do was work as housekeeper.
According to her family registry, Ms. Hwang had a husband at one time, who has since passed away, but she was unable to remember when or even if they were married. She is easily confused and often cannot remember events, possibly in response to her traumatic life. She once mistook the noise from a nearby high school to be the cries of Japanese soldiers and went to the school and the dong office to lodge complaints.
Ms. Hwang’s decision to give a scholarship is largely due to a social worker, Kim Jeong-hwan, 41, who works at the dong office. Mr. Kim always patiently listened to her tales of her unhappy life and won Ms. Hwang’s trust to the extent she wanted to leave him her savings when she dies. He recommended she use the money for a better purpose.
Ms. Hwang’s savings were given to the Gangseo district scholarship foundation, which plans to award a “Hwang Geum-ja scholarship” to one student every year.
by Shin June-bong
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