Monday, July 2, 2012


About two months ago I started volunteering at Samsungwon the orphanage in Gumi, conveniently located right across the street from the foreigner bar. My friend Tami who was in Gumi two years ago volunteered there and since reading about her experience I've had the desire to do so in the back of my mind. Before I show you the adorable children here's some information about Samsungwon that I got from the Aimee the KKOOM representative that helps arrange volunteers at orphanages throughout Korea:

Samsungwon was founded in 1960 in Daegu South Korea but 20 years later moved to its present location in Gumi. The orphanage is home to about 80 children, aged 14 months to twenty years. The children are cared for by 24/7 live-in caretakers, who they call "mom" or "aunt", each responsible for eight to fourteen children, who live in single-sex 'houses". Samsungwon prides itself on its familial house-structure, which differs from many orphanages in Korea that raise children in age-segregated rooms and/or buildings. 

None of the children are eligible for adoption which has been a long standing policy of the orphanage as they prefer to raise the children in their permanent 'houses; at Samsungwon as opposed to sending them to other houses via domestic or international adoption routes. Also, most of the children still have parents who maintain legal parental rights, but could not care for the children and looked to the orphanage for that assistance.

The orphanage receives most of it's funding from the provincial government which goes towards providing children with necessities, operational expenses and basic medical costs. They also receive some funding from Korean nationals which helps pay for supplemental education such as piano or Taekwondo lessons. The children must leave the orphanage after they turn 18, unless they care college students, in which case they can stay until they graduate. Many of the children however remain close with their families and will visit frequently, including major holidays such as Chuesok (Korean Thanksgiving) and the Lunar new year.

Upon meeting the children and staff at Samsungwon I could tell that there really was a special bond within the organization. It was arranged that I would be volunteering once a week to help tutor four 3rd grade boys in English. This would be much more relaxed and casual than any type of Hagwon (private English academy) or classroom setting - basically it's a time for the kids to spend some time with a Native speaker and hopefully gain interest in the Language.

Three of my boys: 송규현, 김동우, and 김진광 
June 2nd KKOOM organized a spring festival for the kids of Samsungwon. I was originally planning to be in Busan for the sand festival but with a change in plans (and mood) I decided to stay in town for the festival. We spent an afternoon playing games outside, snacking and doing various crafts and activities.

The festivities wound down around 7pm but the night was still young. With some funds from the volunteers donations we took the kids to a nearby noraebang. Each volunteer was in charge of one house and we each made our way to a different location. I was lucky to be placed with one of the boys I work with weekly and the rest of his house - total it was me and 6 boys. I must say this was quite a different noraebang experience than any of my previous visits - for one there was no soju or beer involved. Half of the kids were too shy to sing but the two older boys stole the show. I thought I could leave it to them and sit by to watch, but one of the others kept encouraging me to pick a song. I'm not a singer, nor will I ever be, but i'm also not one to let people down. I put aside my nerves and picked up the mic - opting for an easy but fun Backstreet boys hit.

Since the festival i've been back weekly and pleasantly surprised to have most of the kids already remembering who I am. I have a feeling that getting involved with the orphanage will be one of the better decisions i've made in Korea. I'm already anticipating how much fun i'll have at the Christmas celebration next winter! The only down side is that getting attached to these kids might make leaving Korea that much harder...but that's still far in the distance so i'll just soak up their cuteness for now.

So, just as I decide to write this blog post I get an email from Aimee - the coordinator from KKOOM who helped get me started with the orphanage. It made my day and brought a smile to my face so I thought i'd share:
My aunt from Samsungwon, Hyunbin's mom (Ms. Noh), was telling me yesterday how much the third graders love meeting you for class every week. She said it's the first time in 30 years of working and living at Samsungwon that she's seen kids so genuinely excited to meet their volunteer teacher to play and study. She really meant it! She also said that your dad's visit was a hit, and the kids finally understand that "Tom" is your dad (right? hopefully?) and he went home. Apparently, they kept asking for "Tom," and she was like "who the heck is Tom?" Lol. 
Anyway, I know sometimes the language barrier is hard and the staff rarely gets a chance to express their gratitude as clearly as they would like, so I wanted to pass along her compliments to you. Whatever you're doing, keep up the great work! We really appreciate everything you're doing for the kids here at Samsungwon.

Nothing like feeling appreciated to put a smile on your face and make your day! Like I said before, getting involved with Samsungwon may have been the best decision I've made during my time in Korea.


  1. Wonderful blog - never a doubt in my mind that the kids wouldn't fall in love with you. It was so thoughtful of Aimee to send you that e-mail. It IS nice to be appreciated and I'm sure the letter was very inspiring.

    Keep up with these fun and informative blogs - LOVE reading them. Love you, Mom

  2. I am beginning to wonder what life would be like if i were put into one these orphanages when I was a baby rather than adopted. Not in a bad way, but just a "what if" scenario. I wouldn't have met you and been so intrigued with these blogs has i grown up in Korea. All in all, i like how things turned out.