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ChildFund Korea creates community in Tongyeong

Teenagers improve character by performing for younger kids
Sept 24,2016
12th grade students from Chungryol Girl’s High School reenact a fairy tale in ChildFund Korea’s child center in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang. Kim Ye-ji, a student, said, “It started out as a means to help local children, but now I think this experience has healed me.” High school students reenact fairy tales for three hours every Saturday. [SONG BONG-GEUN]
Dressed as a grandmother in a straw hat, the 18-year-old Lee Su-bin wiped sweat from her forehead with a handkerchief and said in Gyeongsang dialect, “It’s Raspberry Day. Let’s eat some raspberries!”

“Grandma,” said Kim Ye-ji, also 18, playing the role of her granddaughter, “what’s Raspberry Day?”

Kim Hye-min, their classmate, then began making cicada noises while putting up a slide that showed a smiling sun shining down on a field of bright red raspberries.

After the play was over, students and children made patbingsu, an adzuki-bean ice dessert, and traditional folding fans.

This was the scene earlier this month when 12th grade students from Chungryol Girl’s High School read a fairy tale for children ages 4 to 6.

The contributing high school students reenacted a summer-themed story for children’s character education class as part of ChildFund Korea, a social welfare organization, which has a child center in Mireuk Island in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang.

“I now want to help those who are less fortunate than me,” said Kim Ye-ji, who initially gathered her friends and created the idea for the play. “When I started to have a more compassionate mind, I think I became more mature.”

Jeong Ye-ji, 18, also added, “Thinking about myself from my parents’ standpoint, my relationship with my mother improved, as well.”

“Students have become very mature after taking the roles of teachers,” said An Jin-cheol, the principal of Chungryol Girl’s High School, “there is no better character education than helping others.”

As such, ChildFund Korea operates on the basic principle of resident participation.

As the Nigerian proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and all residents are teachers to the registered 30 children in this center.

ChildFund Korea also operates outside of Tongyeong in including Naju, North Jeolla; Pohang, North Gyeongsang; and Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi.

In ChildFund Korea’s village in Tongyeong, Gwon Maeng-suk, 55, who provides meals for the children, also hears their various concerns and troubles. Gwon provides solutions to fights children may have had with their friends or troubles they had with their parents.

In order to prepare healthy food for the children, Gwon seasons food with shrimp and anchovy broth instead of using artificial seasoning. Each meal takes about four to five hours to prepare.

Last year, Jeon Du-byeong, a sponsor for ChildFund Korea, formed a “Santa Expedition” comprising about 30 residents. The group gave out various gifts, visiting nine child centers in Tongyeong. Jeon stated, “In the final quarter of this year, we are planning to renovate various children’s facilities.”

It has been four years since the residents have worked to help local children. Mireuk Island originally had poor education conditions, and the island was relatively behind other cities in Tongyeong in terms of basic infrastructure, which was a concern for children’s safety.

In 2012, after the rape and murder of an elementary school student in Mireuk Island, the city of Tongyeong and Mireuk Island residents requested the help of ChildFund Korea for the construction of a child center.

In 2014, ChildFund Korea built a two-story building on land provided by the city and residents’ donations. The building featured a toy library, book café and an assembly hall where children could play and freely run around.

When ChildFund Korea’s child center was built, it played a pivotal role in bringing the residents together. Jeong Myeong-suk, 49, a voluntary cleaner, said, “When ChildFund Korea came, residents started to participate more to improve the quality of life for children.” With the news spread of Chungryol Girl’s High School students’ talent contribution, Tongyeong High School is also expected to participate this September.

ChildFund Korea’s Children’s Choir, which has been active for about two years, has become massively popular in Tongyeong. They give performances at various festivals, nursing homes and schools in Tongyeong.

The choir’s activity has also changed the personality of the children. Ji-hun, a pseudonym, 12, who is living with his mother away from his alcoholic father, is also a member of the choir. Ji-hun was a troublemaker who always had conflict with his classmates.

But after two years being a member of the choir, he is now takes care of others. “The choir’s performance is drastically improved when we all sing as one,” said Ji-hun, “I also realized that I am happier when I get along with friends.”

Dr. Go Ju-ae, of ChildFund Korea’s Child Welfare Research Division, said, “The best method for character education is to restore communities with the active participation of schools, families and regional communities.”

BY YUN SUK-MAN [lee.soowhan@joongang.co.kr]