Sponsors reach out, change lives

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Sponsors reach out, change lives


Left: Baek In-ju, 52, and his son with a group of Mozambicans. Right: Lim Ji-yeon, 41, meets Amalia, 20, for the first time after 11 years of sponsorship. [JEON MIN-GYU, WORLD VISION]

Picture after picture captures the moments of a smiling girl affixed to the refrigerator of one Korean woman. The person in the photograph is 20-year-old Amalia, who lives on the opposite side of the world in Peru.

Lim Ji-yeon, a 41-year-old housewife living in Jamsil, Songpa District, southern Seoul, and Amalia met for the first time in June 2006 through the international children’s fund, Compassion Korea.

While Lim was attending an overseas child sponsorship event, she caught a glimpse of the bright smiling face of Amalia and fell in love in that moment. Lim, having given birth recently, felt a need to help this girl.

With Amalia’s family busy working as itinerant day laborers, her brother is her only company. Lim now sponsors Amalia, having provided emotional and material support for the better part of a decade. Lim sends her a monthly donation, and in exchange, Amalia posts a letter.

After sending 136 letters, Amalia’s dreams of receiving a good education became a reality when Amalia became a university student majoring in international management at a national university in Peru.

Since the start of the 11 odd years of correspondence, Lim and Amalia finally met for the first time on Feb 16. Compassion Korea invited Amalia to a “graduation” event for the children who grew up as adults with the support of their sponsors.

“I’m shaking so much,” Lim said. “I didn’t know we would really meet, where should I begin?”

Her anxiety was plain on her face as she brought her 12-year-old son to meet Amalia. Lim briefly laughed and approached Amalia and they clasped each other’s hands.

Darting between Korean to English, then English to Spanish, Lim and Amalia had to speak through two layers of interpretation.

“[He’s] much more grown-up than when I saw [him] in pictures,” said Amalia, recognizing Lim’s son immediately.

As her eyes turned red, Lim said, “She grew up so beautifully. She must have had a hard time traveling so long on the plane.”

“My sponsor is like a best friend,” Amalia said. “When I had issues, I always found strength in the thought that there’s a person somewhere in this world that’s looking after me.”

Hearing Amalia’s words, Lim began to cry.

“In truth,” Lim said, “it was nothing more than sending some money monthly, but I’m so thankful that Amalia has grown up so well.”

Now Amalia is intent on working at a bank, taking care of her family and helping others in need.

“Thanks to Lim,” she said, “I learned of South Korea and watched the drama, ‘Boys over Flowers.’”

Lim gifted Amalia with cosmetics and Amalia reciprocated with traditional Peruvian clothing. Lim stared carefully at Amalia, savoring the moment, while Amalia’s words were relayed through the two interpretations.

Including Korea Compassion, there are a number of nonprofit organizations (NPOs) in Korea such as World Vision, Childfund Korea and Miral Welfare Foundation, which connect disadvantaged children outside the country with sponsors here. When a match is made, they can go from being a sponsor to a friend, or even surrogate parent.

“When I see the beautiful growth of children,” one sponsor said, “the joy and happiness I feel is more than I can imagine.”

Having become a sponsor five years ago for Lucas Bikida, 18, through World Vision, office worker Baek In-ju, 52, visited Mozambique in East Africa last month to finally meet him. His son Sang-wu, 17 accompanied him.

“I was thinking over what would be meaningful for Sang-wu,” said Baek, “and I started sponsoring.”

In the northern region of Mozambique, Lucas, his sister and mother labored as subsistence farmers. When the Baeks finally met Bikida, the awkward silence was apparent.

Lucas broke the ice by saying, “Why does a kid younger than me have such a mustache?”

They became closer after kicking around a football. The Baeks even presented agricultural tools to Lucas’ neighbors.

“With the drought being serious, seeing Lucas worrying over farming, I thought, “the environment my son lives in is quite different,’” said Baek. “After coming back from Mozambique, we wanted to help more kids, as much as we could in our power.”

Busan resident Yang Hyeon-yeol, 58, has made lifelong memories with Park Bi-ju, 17, through Childfund Korea since 2013. Park lives in a 66 square meter (710 square foot) apartment with her father, grandmother and her brother.

Having one 26-year-old son, Park is like a daughter to him. Park said her dream is to become a diplomat someday, and after hearing her say she was having trouble with math, Yang immediately called over an acquaintance and had a tutor ready to work.

“I understood the love of giving to Bi-ju rather than making memories with her,” he said. “It’s worthwhile and brings me happiness if it means that from my small help friends like Bi-ju grow up well and have the opportunity to volunteer in society.”

A 10 year-old boy surnamed Kim, who suffers from brain lesions, physical disabilities and respiratory disorders, was able to gain five sponsors last year. The Miral Welfare Foundation is concerned with sponsorship services providing at least a year of support for medical expenses for those under the age of 18. Though Kim was plugged in to a respirator for nine years, it became possible for him to enjoy a machine-free life through sponsorship.

“Sponsors are not simply contributing to the medical expenses of one child,” said Kim Rae-hong, a staff member at the Miral Welfare Foundation, “but instead to the whole family, the community where that family lives, and the country.”

BY HONG SANG-JI [hwang.hosub@joongang.co.kr]
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