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Helpers find happiness at Angel House

Saturday’s dinner of pizza and fried chicken was far from an ordinary evening meal for the residents of Angel House. 

A typical weekday dinner can be as simple as kimchi, rice and water.

"They are really poor,” said volunteer coordinator Kiki Fastino.

“They are always waiting until Saturday and Sunday because that is when they get nice cooking.”

Fastino and her band of volunteers visit to help cook, clean and socialize with the 45 residents of the home for disabled people the first Saturday of every month. 
Kiki Fastino laughs along with an Angel House resident. (Kirsty Taylor/The Korea Herald)
Kiki Fastino laughs along with an Angel House resident. (Kirsty Taylor/The Korea Herald)

The 10,000 won donated by each volunteer goes some way to buying food for the Saturday meal, with any leftover cash going to supplement Angel House’s meager budget.

Fastino also saves her own cash to buy gifts and extras for the residents at the Goyangdong house in western Seoul.

Though often called an orphanage, it is more a community, with members aged from one year old to 70 years old, all with some form of mental or physical disability.

Founder Jang Soon-ok started the Angel House on October 1993. She grew up as a virtual orphan herself, abandoned by her own parents because of her disability.

She started the home as a sanctuary for her son and daughter as well as any other disabled people who wanted to stay. Now they are living at full capacity, looking after each other and earning money toward their 12 million won monthly budget along with the support of several charitable organizations.

Two of the children living in the building attached to a church attend school, and the adults work making simple household goods to earn money towards the upkeep of the house. They are catered for by two cooks.

Fastino, who is half Italian, half Burmese, was introduced to the home by a Scottish friend in 2009, when she was going through a tough time in her personal life.

“My mom had just passed away that October and I didn’t want to do anything. I volunteered here and began to feel a little better,” said Fastino, who has lived in Korea for 13 years, becoming a Korean citizen and running an English language hagwon.

“I have been coming here for three years and the people here are like my family. They have no parents but when I see them I am like their mom or sister.”

Fastino knows the harsher side of institutional life, having grown up in an English orphanage when her mother could not afford to support her through school.

“I was in an orphanage for eight years in Kent,” she said.

“I was living in the Catholic Church but now I am not a Christian because they treated me badly.

“But I believe Angel House is a very good place. I come here every month to help them and to make myself happy, too.

“I believe that if I do a good thing then the good energy is going to my mom.“

And Paula Morgan, the Scot who helped build the solid group of volunteers along with American Jerri Friedsam that Kiki has sustained over the last three years, said: “Angel House was absolutely one of the best things I have ever been involved in. It was such a pleasure to spend time with the residents, and I looked forward to going there every month.”

Volunteer Jay Park, a carbon energy consultant from Seoul, echoed the sentiment saying: “I don’t come here to help the residents, I come here to help myself.

“People might say that I come here to help, but actually I am selfish. I want to change my condition. Not just working, going to a club, being hung over.

“If you do only fun things you can’t satisfy yourself, I think you need to focus on other parts of life too. If you do this kind of thing, you can find satisfaction in your life. I try to come every time they need people to help because it is just 0.08 percent of my time every month.”

The house’s founder Kim was awarded an MBC Good Korean Award in 2000, for setting up the countryside sanctuary for disabled people like her, often left with nowhere else to go.

“I wanted to bring all disabled people together here at Angel House,” she said. “I am happy here. Sometimes things are a little difficult but I am happy.”

The house is in need of money and many basic goods to keep running well. Those wishing to learn more can search for the Facebook group “Volunteering at Angel House Orphanage.”

Fastino will lead the next volunteer trip to the house on Oct. 1, with the group meeting at 1:30pm at Younsinae Subway Station Exit 3.

By Kirsty Taylor (
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Korea Herald daum