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. :)