Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sung Ae Won Orphanage

K: I've been thinking about this post for awhile now. I was never exactly sure what to say -- how much to share, is this too heavy a subject, if it would get too sappy etc. But, this blog has shown a lot of wonderful, beautiful, and amazing things about Korea and not very much of the ugly. This blog post will talk one of the sadder issues in Korea.

When my parents were visiting Korea and we took a trip to Busan, one of the primary reasons for visiting was to see the orphanage my brother, Kevin, spent the first 5 years of his life. It's called Sung Ae Won Orphanage.

I think I could've easily also titled this post, "The Day My Life Changed."

When I got to Korea, I kept hearing stories about adoptees who were angry with the system and who feel that Korean orphans should not be sent to foreign countries. While I, personally, can't relate to the anger they feel, I can understand the feeling of never really belonging to Korea. Sometimes it really sucks to see an entire country of people who look like me, but who I'll never truly understand because I left my true "Korean-ness" behind when I boarded a plane for America at the age of 2.

I've always toyed with the idea of wanting to build my future family through adoption, since I have received so much from my adoptive parents. But before visiting the orphanage, I was questioning this. However, after visiting this orphanage, I'm positive that adoption will be in Mark's and my future. I'll explain why later...

Anyway, back to the orphanage visit. We pulled up to the orphanage and, besides a paint job, it looked almost exactly the same as a picture my mom received a few years after Kevin was adopted. We were happy to see that the orphanage was in good condition.

Here's a shot of the bathroom/kitchen area.

When we walked through the door, we were greeted by a woman named Chris who spoke perfect English. She was able to find some of Kevin's paperwork and answer some of my parents' questions. They even received a new picture of Kevin that they had never seen before!

One thing that caught my eye was this bulletin board. Yes, those are all the children that currently live at the orphanage. There are 76 of them. But looking at their pictures didn't do them justice.

We waited around until they woke up from their naps. Look at all these tiny shoes!

These were the youngest kids. They are all 6 months or slightly older. Chris told us that when an abandoned baby is found, they keep him or her for 6 months in a temporary home in case the birth parents change their minds. Only after those 6 months is the child put in the orphanage for adoption.

We couldn't really play with them since they were under the weather.

Next, we went to the room with the babies who were about a year old. There were easily 12-15 of them in one tiny room with one nurse.

When we walked in, they immediately ran over to us and held their arms up to be held. When we picked them up, they got huge smiles on their faces, grabbed us tight around the neck, and didn't want to be put down. They seemed starved for attention and love, which was heartbreaking.

When it came time to leave the room, it was awful. They began crying and screaming hysterically. We had only spent 15-20 minutes holding them and playing with them, but it was like the world was ending to them when we left.

Last, we spent some time with the oldest children. They were between 5 and 7.

This little girl is the oldest girl in the orphanage. She is 7 years old. Before long, she will be transferred to another home. She was obsessed with SangKwun's camera. When we looked at her pictures later, we were surprised to see that they were quite good!

This little cutie jumped into Mark's arms and took it upon herself to try to teach him some Korean. :)

One of the little boys ran right up to my Dad and threw his arms in the air to be held. It was pretty cute.

You may be wondering why all these children are in the orphanages in the first place. I know I was. Korea isn't the impoverished country it was back in the 80s when I was adopted. I read an article in the New York Times earlier this month about the cultural issue of unwed mothers. You can read it here: Group Resists Korean Stigma for Unwed Mothers. I really recommend reading this, it's truly shocking. Some of these statistics are just plain horrible.

Chris told us that Sung Ae Won no longer does international adoptions. The Korean government is concerned about their reputation around the world, so they've greatly limited the number of children they can send abroad. Unfortunately, even though adoption is free (and there's even a monthly stipend) for Korean citizens who adopt, there are Korean cultural issues with adoption. Chris said that if a couple is unable to conceive, they will usually wait 15 years or so before they even consider adoption. So usually the adoptive parents are much older. And Korean culture is all about the family bloodline, so there's a good chance that the adopted child's grandparents, uncles, and aunts will not recognize that child as a member of the family. In Sung Ae Won, only 5 children... that's 5 children out of about 76 children.... were adopted last year. The odds are not good for these kids to join a forever family.

Seeing, holding, and hugging these children has convinced me that these kids need a parent's love more than the ability to speak Korean fluently, or to celebrate Cheusok, or to eat kimchi. (Though, these are all things we plan to make an integral part of our children's lives no matter what, whether they're adopted or not.)

As I looked into their eyes, I could've been looking into Kevin's eyes, or even my own eyes in the mirror. Their story is my story. I was one of those kids in the orphanage -- wanting an Omma (mom) and an Appa (dad). I was just lucky enough to be "picked." Someday I want to "pick" a child or two and give them the unconditional love they deserve. And I'm fortunate enough to have a husband who feels the same way. :)


Mom (J) said...

Thank you so much for sharing this experience and your feelings. I wish you could bring one of those little ones home with you.

Erin Folwarski said...

I got teary eyed looking at those pics and reading your story. You did a great job writing that. And I'm sure you made those kids' day by visiting.

Jen said...

Wow, Kim...I'm so happy you had the chance to experience this with your parents. It breaks my heart to hear this story: so many kids without a home.

Thank you for sharing. It's sad, but also amazing to know that there are people like your parents (and you and Mark) in this world ready to love them...

Happy Halloween to you both...I'll be missing Kristi Yamaguchi and Brian Boytano! :)

Mom said...

Kim, your latest blog brought tears to my eyes. You did an excellent job of summarizing our visit to Sung Ae Won Orphanage. So many little ones without parents to love and care for them. It's good to know that they are being treated well and looked healthy. You know that we would be very happy to welcome any grandchild into our lives!!

Julia said...

Beautiful post, kim. Very well written. I can't wait for this next phase in your lives!

And holy cow, Mark is skinny!!

Chinazhoumom said...

Whle reading the post - I thought ahhh look at the tiny shoes - but then I thought something is not right - they are TOO clean - none of them appear to be worn - much less by it just my imagination???
Thank you for your post - too bad they don't think single moms make good moms...

윤선 said...

Wow, very interesting and insightful post. It's so easy for us adoptees to think so much about the things we've missed out on, but your post has really given me something to think about. I always said that I wouldn't adopt, because I feel it's made me very insecure in many ways, however it's a sad reality that there are so many children who are in need of loving homes, such as these angels.

Thanks for posting this. You've really added an extra insight and dimension into the world of adoption (even for an adoptee, such as myself).^^

P.S. I'm planning to go to Korea next year (first time back since I was adopted), and I'd love to be able to go back to a place like this and see children like this for myself. It must be a very eye-opening experience.

Mica said...

I'm new to your blog, but I wanted to thank you for writing this post. It was both sad and uplifting, but I really enjoyed it.

I'm an adoptee too, just recently becoming interested in my adoption, and I was surprised to find so many people with negative thoughts towards their adoption. This post was so refreshing because you wrote about the good and the bad. Thank you!

Nina Caputa said...

hey mark and kim! this is sooo cute...bring a little one home there is so much love here that he/she will have forever! miss and love you two sooooo much!

Beth (O'Connell) Lauver said...

Kim, what a great post, and so touching. I've been following along with what you're up to when I can, and I was eager to see what you had to say about your visit to the orphanage. I'm glad you had such a powerful visit, and that you were one of the ones who was "picked!" It's great to see these kids are being well cared for, but heartbreaking to think they might never have families of their own. Thank you for sharing their story, and yours! I hope we can have a CJ 10.5 year reunion when you get back!

Aunt Carol said...

Kim, I am so touched by your post and feel so sad that Korea treats its unmarried women so poorly. I know that isn't uncommon in certain cultures (and out own isn't so great either) but it's just so sad for the little ones and the Moms involved -- and the families that reject them as well. You and Mark will be wonderful parents -- however you choose to take on that role!

Anonymous said...

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- Daniel

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dancade said...

This is awesome. Thank you for sharing your story (I realize I'm a couple years late to read :) I stayed at this orphanage for the first 2 years of my life (I don't remember anything, obviously), and only recently learned the name of it after my mother (adoptive mother) gave me 'my file' with all of the documentation.
I have been struggling with the idea of 'soul searching' or whatever you may call it, fearing that my quest would lead me to an abandoned lot or run-down building.
Knowing that this orphanage is still there and well-maintained has perhaps reignited my desire to visit.

Again, thank you for posting this.

weathergeek said...

My Korean adopted daughter is in Changwon near Busan right now. She is visiting our former exchange student. We thought visiting an orphanage would be good for her and the children. Do you remember how to get to the orphanage? Google Earth isn't helping. Thanks. (