Middle school students push for ‘comfort women’ statue

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Middle school students push for ‘comfort women’ statue

Local activists have been working hard to collect funds to build a statue symbolizing the victims of Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery in the city of Donghae, Gangwon, raising 25 million won ($21,000) so far, with a considerable amount donated by local middle school students.

A civic committee to build a “comfort women” statue in Donghae, located on the northeastern coast of Korea, by the East Sea, was launched at the end of last month, bringing in donations from over 910 people so far. The Peace Monuments erected in cities throughout Korea, notably in central Seoul, and overseas, have become a global symbol of remembrance for the plight of the tens of thousands of girls and young women forcibly mobilized into to sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, euphemistically referred to as comfort women, and a call for an apology from the Japanese government.

One of the co-heads of the committee is Jeong Jun-woo, a 15-year-old student from Mukho Middle School in Donghae.

Jeong, with a group of 20 Mukho Middle School students, has been holding events to promote historical understanding since last month and sold souvenirs including butterfly badges, bracelets and key rings. Yellow butterflies represent comfort women victims. Setting up a booth at the 34th Donghae Mooreung Festival earlier this month on Oct. 5 and 6, the students sold 448 souvenirs.

The group raised a total of 1.362 million won through their fundraising efforts and donated it to the committee.

“After the festival, I frequently have heard words of thanks from friends for creating an opportunity for them to donate,” said Jeong, who is also president of the student council at Mukho Middle School. “I felt glad recently when I saw someone on the street wearing a butterfly badge.”

Jeong has been interested in building a comfort women statue in his city since August, following Japan’s implementation of export restrictions on Korea over the wartime forced labor issue, and the Korean public’s move to boycott Japanese goods.

At first, Jeong and his friends planned to erect a small peace monument within their school grounds. However, in the process, they learned that the Donghae City Government was launching a committee to build a comfort women statue in the city. Jeong called up on city government officials and conveyed his wish to participate in the project.

Jeong said, “I wanted to be of some help, as small as it may be, and contacted the committee in mid-September but ended up becoming co-chair representing the students.”

The committee to build the comfort women statue launched on Sept. 30 with three co-chairs including Jeong and aims to erect a statue on Dec. 10. The cost of building the statue is 60 million won. The committee on Oct. 18 contracted Korean sculptor Kim Seo-kyung, who made the iconic statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in 2011.

BY PARK JIN-HO, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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