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Eximbank sponsors teenage brass band from South Sudan

The Export-Import Bank of Korea said on Thursday that its staff including chief executive Kim Yong-hwan agreed to be personal mentors for about 30 members of a teenage brass band from South Sudan while providing them with regular scholarships.

The brass band from the South Sudanese village of Tonj was created by the late Catholic priest Lee Tae-seok who devoted his life to healing people in the worn-torn country through both medicine and music. Lee had served as a clergyman, doctor, teacher and mentor to the people of Tonj until he died of cancer in 2010. His story was made into a widely viewed television documentary titled “Don’t Cry, Tonj.”

Together with the Korean finance and health ministries, KBS and the South Sudanese government, Eximbank has been carrying out a joint project called “Smile, Tonj” to build the first medical college and hospital named after Lee in the African country’s capital of Juba and rebuild Tonj. Health care centers and small schools will be built with donations from the Korean people under the project.

“We will do our best to support the ‘Smile, Tonj’ so it can become a landmark of Korea’s official development assistance as we try to keep alive Father Lee Tae-seok’s spirit of sharing and love,” Kim said at the mentor-mentee agreement ceremony.

“I hope the brass band from Tonj can feel the warmth in Father Lee’s country during their stay and return home with much hope and dreams for the future.”

The teenage band visited Seoul this week in time for the Korea Africa Economic Cooperation, a biennial ministerial meeting on how to strengthen economic cooperation between Korea and African countries.

They played Korean tunes “Arirang” and “Spring of My Hometown” at the opening ceremony of the KOAFEC on Monday and visited Everland in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, with Eximbank employees Tuesday.

On Wednesday, they were set to establish ties with Baemoon Middle School in Seoul and make an appearance on a KBS program “Open Concert.”

By Kim So-hyun (