One of the things I wanted to do while in Korea was volunteer at an orphanage. To be honest, I have not done this yet in Hwasun, due to the time I've been spending teaching, traveling, and doing taekwondo (although I'd like to change that this semester). But many other English teachers have done worked at orphanages, including many of those who have lived and taught in Gumi in the last few years.
Gumi is a small town in the Gyeongsangbuk province in central Korea - I would guess around 100,000 people live there. As I said, a number of the teachers in Gumi, both present and former, have volunteered at the orphanage there, Samsungwon. Some of the former volunteers, all of whom are now back in the United States, started a nonprofit called "KKOOM" ("dream," 꿈, in Korean) to help out the kids of Samsungwon. And so last December, I had the opportunity to go to Gumi for the holiday party KKOOM was putting together for the kids. I had a wonderful time.
The kids at Samsungwon were of all ages - anywhere from babies to high school students. Kids are not adopted from Samsungwon, so they only leave if their birth parents return for them. When I started interacting with the kids, and I was immediately struck by how much love there was at the orphanage. The kids were all organized into "houses" of about 10 kids, and the houses were clearly very close-knit. Each house had a "mother" who cared for the very young children, and the older kids clearly took care of the younger kids in their house. I think a lot of the kids at Samsungwon were probably better off than those living with abusive or uncaring parents, anywhere in the world. Now, not all orphanages in Korea are the same (of course), so these statements are really only applicable to Samsungwon. But clearly, although Samsungwon is not very wealthy, many of the children there seemed well-loved and content - which is the most important thing.
At the holiday party, I manned the arts and crafts area, where kids made Christmas ornamants, cards, bags, and paper airplanes. Let me tell you, little children will go crazy if you give them enough stickers and glitter. They also made origami, which would be mailed by KKOOM back to the party's donors. Later in the day, I got to judge a gingerbread house contest, and then each child received a gift put together by an American donor. We also cooked them dinner and the breakfast the next morning.
I'm so glad that I got to go to Gumi and work with these kids. They were so sweet, and so much fun to be around, and as I said, it was touching to see the amount of love there at Samsungwon. Without a doubt, the experience was one of my most meaningful so far in Korea.
If you want to learn more about KKOOM, check out http://www.kkoom.org/. There's information about the organization, about Samsungwon, and some pictures from the Christmas party. There's also an 8-minute video, which I've posted below.