This morning I met up with a group of people I don’t know to go to a Children’s Welfare Center (we call them Orphanages in the States, but “Orphan” is seen as an ugly term here. They say that all of the children have parents, because a parent is the person who takes care of you and loves you like the staff does for these kids) about 30 minutes away from base. I hopped into a stranger’s car, and off we went. As we drove, we spoke. The guy who owns the car is a MSgt, and a DJ on the side. The other girl riding with us is TSgt who loves babies (literally all she spoke about).
The Center was a bit off the beaten path. We went through a small village full of sharp corners and crazy roads barely big enough for one car, then up a hill to get inside the gate. I wish I had taken a picture of those roads and am glad I didn’t have to drive!
There are about 30 children at this Center, and they age from 4 months to 20 years. When they hit 20 years (18 or 19 in US years, depending on when they were born) they can live there while going to University or get a job and move out. There is mandatory Military service (2 years) in South Korea, but any child who lives in a Center for more than five years is exempt. The government figures they’ve had a hard enough life already. Besides, they have no one to go home to after the fact and are used to taking care of themselves – not following inane orders.
15 Staff members work at the home at any given time. They live with the children, cook for them, teach them, and make sure that they are given as normal a life as possible. What a job.
When we first met them, the kids were very shy. Lucky for us, I brought caramel cremes along. Candy really is the Universal Language! They warmed up to us very quickly while chomping down. After that, 10-15 children came outside to play with us. At least 8 of the ones there now are <2 years old, so they stayed with their caretakers. We were told that the girls and boys play separately, so even though they all wanted to play Soccer, all of the girls went to a corner of the field and we kicked a ball around for about an hour while the boys played an actual game (there were way more of them).
The past month or so I’ve been taking a Korean Language class, and it came in use today. I don’t know too much, but I was able to ask the children their names, tell them I was glad to meet them, play a clapping game where you have to count, and read them a short story while they laughed and corrected my pronunciation for every single word. Maybe they should have read the story to me :p
Around 1140 we were told that it was time for the Children to prepare for lunch, so we took some pictures with them and got ready to leave. I wish we had been able to stay longer. I wonder what happened in each of their lives that they are at the Center. You could tell some were siblings by they way they looked after one another and teased one another, and I want to know what happened to their parents.
It’s so sad. I’m so lucky to have both of mine.