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Returning to help Korean kids through KKOOM

U.S. lawyer follows her heart back to Korea to help orphans


It all started when Aimee Jachym returned to South Korea for a year-long volunteer program, having left her country of birth at just four months old.

Her year out soon turned into a vocation as the Korean-American adoptee founded the Korean Kids and Orphanage Outreach Mission to help orphans still living here to a better life. 
KKOOM volunteer Danny DiCrispino works with Sora, an Emmanuel middle school student. (KKOOM)
KKOOM volunteer Danny DiCrispino works with Sora, an Emmanuel middle school student. (KKOOM)

Seven years after her first trip back, she has given up her job as a corporate lawyer and taken a 70 percent salary cut to help parentless kids here full-time.

“The reason I quit my job was for the same reason KKOOM was first founded ― it was out of necessity,” said Jachym who first returned to Korea with the international education organization the Fulbright Program in 2004.

She started volunteering at Samsungwon orphanage in Gumi and founded KKOOM as an informative website and a loose network of expat volunteers.

The organization quickly grew until funds coming in from donors in America and Korea obliged Jachym to register it as a non-profit in the U.S. in 2007.

Now Jachym, who is president of the organization, is working with a host of expat volunteers across Korea giving underprivileged kids English lessons, mentorship and material donations including food, books and clothes.

The organization is in regular contact with around 50 volunteers and has helped many more start volunteering at orphanages through advice and its extensive online database.

Jachym said many found helping kids incredibly rewarding: “I have been in and out of Korea long enough now to have seen some of the kids grow up. I remember them coming to the orphanage scared or even malnourished.

“Five years ago one child I see regularly at Samsungwon came in frostbitten after having been abandoned outside the orphanage in a T-shirt in November. He was just 2 years old.

“When you see this kid now, he is doing quite well. We have seen him flourish.

“If KKOOM is working well, the lives of these kids should just be getting incrementally better.”

Toward this aim, KKOOM is running its first residential volunteer program at Emmanuel Children’s home in Gimcheon, Gyeongbuk Province this week.

Emmanuel Stay

Seven international volunteers are living at the home to help the 115 children ranging from newborn babies to college students.

Two EPIK English teachers working in Incheon, a Malaysian grad student, two Korean adoptees, a Korean national and a woman from Florida hoping to adopt an orphan are all taking part in the stay running from Aug. 7 to 13.

With hopes to expand such residential programs in future years, Jachym’s main aim is to keep supporting foreign volunteers in forging connections with Korean orphanage staff.

“Once there is a vested interest there it is easier for us to walk in and say this is the support we would like to give this volunteer to help these children. It’s all about building human relationships,” she said.

“We want the kids to forge relationships with people from English speaking countries. We hope that when they know people from countries like America they will want to continue learning English for the rest of their lives.”

KKOOM also recently started Skype tutoring to offer regular English support to kids unable to meet volunteers regularly in person. Six kids from Gimcheon are already taking part, and Jachym hopes to extend the project soon.

A new International Education Program aiming to fund overseas trips is also set to pique kids’ interest in language study.

Selected kids will either travel to America, the U.K. or the Philippines to learn English for inspirational tours of up to a month long from 2013. The designated funds, which currently stand at $25,000, could also pay expenses for orphaned kids doing volunteer work in developing countries.

The Post-high School Support Initiative is another major project set to help kids leaving orphanages but struggling to get a firm foothold in Korean society.

The fund has raised $3,885 since its establishment this spring, allowing KKOOM to start work with one third-grade high school student living at Gumi’s Samsungwon.

Post-home help

“Jin-dong wants to major in business Gyeongbuk University in Daegu and become a CEO, said Jacheem. “He wants to become a social entrepreneur. He has already been given a small grant to fund a study room and KKOOM have promised to support him further by way of scholarship if he gets into university.”

Jachym also plans to use the fund to help orphans struggling to keep a roof over their head after leaving the orphanage.

Another orphan, Junh-sung, came to Gumi’s Samsungwon when he was two months old. Now he has graduated from university and works at a nurse in Bucheon, south of Seoul.

“He moved there without knowing anyone and started work in April,” said Jachym.

“He is making $1,000 a month, but because of the Jeonse rental system he can’t afford a house. Where can he find the 5-10 million won deposit? With basic living costs it is going to take him 5 to 10 years to save that money. Right now he is living in the hospital where he works.”

KKOOM wants to give him an interest-free loan in order to help him put a roof over his head.

Jachym says she would be happiest when there was no more work for her to do in Korea. In the meantime, she wants to encourage others to help as much as they can.

“There is a certain responsibility that comes from working with children,” she said.

“The kids have an energy and hope and aspiration that is a kind of burden on you. If you let these kids down, somehow your life and time here is not that meaningful.”

For more information on helping KKOOM go to kkoom.org.

By Kirsty Taylor  (kirstyt@heraldcorp.com)
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