An Orphanage Director’s Perspective
(This interview was conducted by Steve Morrison in front of many visiting adoptees and Korean nationals at one of the gatherings in Seoul, Korea three years ago.
Q: Please introduce yourself.
A: My name is Kim Young Sook and I have worked 19 years at the Emmanuel Orphange in the city of Kim Cheon.
Q: You must have witnessed many children come and go while working at the Emmanuel Orphanage. About how many children have you served?
A: Because I was there 19 years, I would guess around 350 children have come and gone.
Q: What were the typical reasons why the children were admitted to your facility?
A: There are various reasons. In the old days many children lost their parents but today many children come in because parents cannot fulfill their responsibilities. For example children born out-of-wedlock, abandoned, or dysfunctional families due to parental separation or divorce.
Q: For the children in your facility, about what percentage of birth parents come and visit your children?
A: Most parents drop off their children in the orphanage promising that they will come to reclaim their children once the economic situations improve. But most of them don’t keep their promises as they entrust the babies and the babies grow up in the orphanage as parents are never heard from again.
Q: Do children wish that their parents would one day show up?
A: Yes. That is true. They hope that their parents would come and take them back home. When they don’t hear from their parents and when they see their friends get adopted, they come to me saying, “Mrs. Kim I want to be adopted too.” And they are very envious of their friends.
Q: What is the age when orphans are sent out of the Emmanuel facility?
A: Typically when they turn 18 that’s when they are sent out.
Q: What sorts of preparations are being done now when they are sent out?
A: In the old days they were sent out without any preparations, but since 1990 they were given Adjustment to Independence money of around $1,000, and today they are receiving around $5,000. The amount varies depending on the cities, if the city has money, the outgoing orphans are given $5,000, and if the city has some difficulty in finance they are given only $2,000 to $3,000. But Kim Cheon city gives out $5,000 to our outgoing boys and girls since last year. Nowadays we also provide needed items when they leave.
Q: No matter how much an orphanage may prepare its children, Isn’t it still very challenging for the orphans to adjust to the real world?
A: Once an orphan leaves the institution, he/she has no place to turn. Once he leaves the facility his sponsorship by various people will end and he needs to stand alone. If an orphan leaves the facility with no specific preparation to work anywhere, then their livelihood becomes very basic level through various menial labors just to survive.
Q: Do most of the orphanages require orphans leave their facilities when they turn 18?
A: Not most, but all of the facilities are like that. They are sent out when orphans turn 18, but in some special circumstances or when he/she goes to college they are given longer stay in the orphanage.
Q: Despite all the hardships that orphans may face after leaving the institution, aren’t there some successful cases?
A: Of course, there are. No matter how difficult an environment is, if a person works hard they can be successful. There have been pastors, teachers, nurses, kindergarten directors that came out of our orphanage, but successes like these are very few.
Q: How is the education level for the orphans? Can you give some comparisons from early years versus today?
A: 10 years ago, it was very difficult for orphans to go to colleges. Only 3% - 5% went to colleges. The reason is that institutionalized children cannot afford to go to colleges, and also because they live in the institutions they are at significant academic disadvantage. But now things are different as the Government provides some assistance to orphans who want to go to colleges, but the rate of orphans going to college is still far lower than children from ordinary families.
Q: What do you feel is the main difference between domestic adoption and the intercountry adoption?
A: I’m sure that adoptive families love their children. But from my experience in domestic adoption, Koreans adopting are very conditional such as a child must be pretty, and have a good personality. But for the intercountry adoption, many adoptive parents are open even special needs, and that tells me that adoption for them is child centered rather than parent centered as it is for Korean adoption.
Q: Now, do you wish to say anything to the visiting adoptees?
A: As I look at all of you, I feel so moved to see all of you grown up so beautifully. You have been blessed to grow up in your homes and receive much love and happiness. But in our orphanage there are still many children waiting to be adopted. In our facility, there are children whose parents don’t care nor ever pay a visit, and the fact that these children have parents somewhere make them unadoptable, and this is very painful for me to think about. These children would be better off growing up in families rather than stay in institutions. It is my sincerest desire to see all the children at our facility be adopted into loving homes someday.