Why should we help kids in Korea instead of orphans in third-world countries?
The woman asking me this seemed to assume that the poorer the country, the more dire and urgent its children’s lot. However, there is no shortage of deprivation in the world and thus no reason to ignore any of it. This spring, in her address on re-imagining social justice leadership, Brandeis professor Anita Hill invoked Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Her talk outlined the struggle for women’s rights in recent decades without any thought that the struggle should have been delayed because women in other countries or other groups in this country were also suffering.
Korean orphans grow up in one of the world’s most industrialized countries, but their culture’s deeply rooted discrimination against children born to unmarried women limits their opportunities from birth through adulthood. KKOOM’s work affords such children–institutionalized due to their legal orphan status–access to educational opportunities that would be otherwise unattainable.
Education allows these orphans to pursue their dream careers as they come of age. Whether or not these careers are in helping professions or humanitarian establishments, they will be more perceptive of social injustice in their own communities or abroad and better equipped to address it.
Nelson Mandela once said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Giving these orphan students the opportunity to be as educated as their non-orphan peers is incredibly important.
I also have the honor and privilege of sharing our work with my peers. Earlier this summer, I was tasked with creating a blueprint for KKOOM’s College Ambassador Pilot Program. As I began reaching out to college students and groups (such as Korean Student Associations), I had the chance to share my passion for this very real problem facing Korean orphans thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.
I originally hesitated sharing this, but, to speak candidly, a few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a sixteen-year-old girl who took her own life. This gave my trip to Korea and the work I do with KKOOM more meaning.
Suicide is the number one cause of death among Korean youth, with statistics most often citing academic pressure. Add the cultural stigma Korea pins to those they consider “illegitimate children” to the stresses an average teenager faces and the result is the horribly unequal playing field on which Korean orphans find themselves fighting.
Working with KKOOM allows me to directly help these students. By providing them educational opportunities and events like Dream Camp — by arming them with education — these kids can run faster and farther after their dreams.