Shinhan encourages children’s love of reading

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Shinhan encourages children’s love of reading

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Clockwise from top: Children read books with a college student who volunteers through Shinhan’s “Book Mentor” program; A customer, second from left, poses in a library built with her donation in Mapo District, northwestern Seoul; Vice President Cho Sung-ha of Shinhan Card, right, reads with children in Vietnam; Wi Sung-ho, the president of Shinhan Card, reads a book with a child. Provided by Shinhan Card

When it comes to showing due diligence in contributing to culture projects that will improve society, many companies support young talent in music and art. But Shinhan Financial Group has more to offer. It builds libraries to promote reading for pleasure, alongside fostering musicians and artists.

While Shinhan Bank awards aspiring music students and fosters talented professional artists, Shinhan Card has taken the lead in promoting the importance of literary education by setting up libraries all across the country.

The company has created multiple Shinhan Card Areumin Libraries within child care centers since 2010. It now has more than 380.

It is rare for a local company to focus on cultivating literacy. But Shinhan Card saw the necessity in ensuring reading becomes more familiar and fun to youngsters, especially those from underprivileged households.

“We first wanted to dissolve the discrepancies in who receives educational opportunities due to disparities in household income so that children from less privileged families can increase their will to learn,” explained Lee Joon-ho, senior manager of Shinhan Card’s Compassionate Finance Team, a division in charge of the project, on why the company started its focus on encouraging reading.

“And we not only plan to help youngsters pursue their future dreams, we also seek to use the network we have built through libraries in different regions to provide more cohesive support to boost local cultures within smaller communities.”

Building the libraries also fits into the three keywords that Shinhan Group pursues when it comes to its social contribution: sympathy, symbiosis and coexistence.

Each Shinhan affiliate has considered these three ideas in different ways when developing methods to cater to the needs of the local community.

“We are trying to preserve the tradition that has been established in local communities [whether it is music, arts or books] and try to foster a new generation with quality cultural education,” said Shinhan Financial Group in a statement.


Finding fun in libraries

Since Shinhan Card launched its project in 2010 it has been renovating spaces at local child care centers into libraries. It donates about 1,000 children’s books to each location.

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Cellist Ryu Min-ji, who won the third Shinhan Music Awards in 2012, play at Shinhan Art Hall in Yeoksam, southern Seoul. Provided by Shinhan Bank

Its funding comes from different sources. For example, money and membership points donated by Shinhan’s card customers through a website were enough to build a new library at a center in Mapo District, northwestern Seoul.

The company reviews requests for a new library from regional childcare centers and approves construction based on each center’s ability to operate such facility and how far behind the center is in terms of providing a reading environment for kids. This year, Shinhan Card plans to make 40 more libraries.

The goal isn’t to encourage children to read more books in a shorter period of time. It is to ensure that children feel comfortable with books and are familiar around them so that they voluntarily look for literary sources to satiate their academic thirst.

“Of course, it is hard to keep the books clean and together as kids often tear them up while reading or playing with them,” said Kang Chung, a social worker at Seed Childcare Center in Jungnang District, eastern Seoul. “However, we consider that it is one way for them to develop a positive attitude towards books.”

The start of the process comes from using books in a variety of ways. Some children open a book and immediately start drawing the characters featured in them, Kang said. Some use books to test each other on spelling, using vocabulary from the reading material as sample questions.

“It may look like they don’t really read much from the books, but parents at home said in an annual review session last year that their kids come home with what stories they remember that were featured in a book or tell them stories when they see real-life happenings that are similar to what they learned in the books,” said Kang.

Mentors make reading more fun

The company does not stop at just providing infrastructure. It also guides youngsters on the best use of reading materials by having college students teach children to take on a healthy reading habit in classes targeting young elementary students from first to third grade.

“We decided that it would be good to provide support for children in that age range as they are malleable enough to quickly grow interest in literary materials,” said Park Yun-hee, an assistant manager in charge of Areumin library and the mentor program.

The Areumin Book Mentor program, which was launched in 2012, usually starts at the beginning of each year. The company will take applications from college students in late March who want to be part of the volunteer program. It will select 50 this year and the mentors will start their coaching sessions from May for six months. They have about 20 classes to meet with children.

The students receive two days of overnight training and continue meeting throughout the program to share tips and give feedback. The volunteers need to commit to one class a week and will be assigned to work at a center local to them.

Their job isn’t to increase the quantity of books each child reads. They usually start by discussing the covers of the books with the children and their appeal. If a book they choose to read with the children features a scene at a local market, they will go to a market with the children. If a book features how to grow tomatoes, the children will plant the seeds to grow the vegetable.

“By looking at children getting more intrigued in reading towards the end of the classes after they showed some sort of repulsion for reading in the beginning, I also got to reflect on my reading routine and started to take out books from libraries,” said Kim Hyuk, a senior at Korea University who mentored children last year.

The students take around eight kids a time and the company provides all the books they read with the class. Mentors lead lessons based on a curriculum given during training.

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Shinhan Bank offers its gallery space in Yeoksam and Gwanghwamun to local artists for exhibitions. Provided by the bank

The company has planned to diversify its cultural portfolio. It has opened libraries at major hospitals that have a children’s unit, including Seoul National University Hospital, so that children who are frequent visitors can be exposed to reading.

Shinhan Card aims to create libraries for older readers as well. After it opened a library for the first time last year at a general welfare center where people of all ages visit to enjoy hobbies, learn new skills or just hang out, it plans to foster more at those facilities this year. Out of the 383 libraries it currently has, most house children’s books.

The company is also branching out to Vietnam to spread the literary fun. As Shinhan Group has held a program that sends college volunteers to the country since 2011, the card division decided to join the team and bring its library project. Last year it opened its first overseas library in Hanoi and plans to create one annually in the coming years.

Local talents rise to the world

While Shinhan’s card company focuses on bolstering literary interest, the group’s banking arm supports musicians and artists. The bank established the Shinhan Music Awards in 2009 and the winners get to visit well-renowned music institutes outside of Korea to receive lessons. The bank only offers the chance to win to junior or high school students in Korea with no international training sessions under their belts.

Students file an application to enter the competition. The most talented in four different categories including vocals, piano, violin and cello are chosen. Since the second year of the awards the winners of each category have trained in the United States, Italy, Germany or Austria.

“It is a chance for local students to see the bigger picture out there,” said Yu Mun-jong, an associate at Shinhan Bank’s department of corporate social responsibility. He came back to Korea at the end of last month after leading last year’s winners to the University for Music and Performing Arts in Austria.

“We have been taking students to different institutes to find the training team that suits our needs the best.”

Although not yet confirmed, he said there is a possibility that this year’s winners will be able to go to Austria as well, depending on how discussions go from now on.

This year, the bank will start taking applications for the awards in May. Winners also get 16 million won ($14,400) per person and the opportunity to perform solo at Shinhan Art Hall in Yeoksam, southern Seoul.

“Since we bring all four winners together for the training, we hope they continue building a community of Shinhan awards winners in the future, and continue interacting with one another while developing their musical career to better understand the fields they are not so familiar with,” said Yu.

The bank also provides a gallery space for artists to hold exhibitions. This year, 10 individuals and teams will be selected to feature their creative work at Shinhan’s two galleries in Seoul, in Yeoksam and in Gwanghwamun, from March.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]

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