Triggered by war, doctor dedicated to helping poor

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Triggered by war, doctor dedicated to helping poor

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Kim Dong-hae

On a world map hanging on the wall of Dr. Kim Dong-hae’s office, 22 countries in Africa and Asia are highlighted in yellow.

Since 2002, the director of Myeong Dong St. Mary’s Eye Center in central Seoul has visited the highlighted countries to conduct volunteer work. In fact, Kim founded Vision Care Service - a nonprofit organization for ophthalmic surgery and medical treatment - to help the underprivileged with no access to optometrists.

Over the past nine years, the organization’s 70 doctors have conducted nearly 7,000 operations, while seeing more than 50,000 patients in their 82 visits abroad.

Kim only spends seven months out of the year in Korea. For the rest of the year, he is overseas. “My wife and children hated it at first, but they came around after we went volunteering together several times,” said Kim during an interview on Feb. 25.

Kim said the war in Afghanistan triggered his desire to help people in impoverished countries.

“I was shocked to see poor people more harshly afflicted by poverty and disease in the Afghanistan war [in 2001],” said Kim.

His volunteer work started in neighboring Pakistan.

“I cannot describe the joy I feel when looking at my patients living brand new lives after I operate on them,” Kim said.

As a tribute to his devotion, the 26th Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology Congress awarded Kim the Outstanding Service in Prevention of Blindness Award.

Kim said there is a lesson here for Korea’s international aid programs. He touts a uniquely “Korean model of assistance.”

“Anyone can dig a well. What [Korea] has to offer is professional development aid based on smart manpower and advanced technologies,” he said.

Kim left for Nepal on Monday.


By Kim Hyo-eun [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

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