Friday, August 7, 2009

We are in Seoul now

What a busy month. A few weeks ago KUMSN hosted the study tour in the US. Now the US staff are here in Seoul. Amazing.

Today, August 7, 2009, we started the day with Dr. Cheryl Mitchell giving a lecture to elementary school teachers on teaching in multi cultural classrooms. Among many things, she shared the approach that can see multi cultural as not only including children who are literally different ethnicities, but also gender, income, abilities and disabilities, religion, etc. She challenged the teachers to think of ways that all children, and all parents of their students, can feel welcomed and validated in the classroom. She deftly wove in the implication that this includes the children of unwed moms, and the moms themselves.

The afternoon was spent at Doori House, a program of the Korean Salvation Army. Started in 1926 as a home for women, it became a program specifically for unwed moms in the 1990s. They provide housing, food, health care, vocational education, arts and crafts, music and art therapy, counseling and a wonderful, home like atmosphere that is very warm and welcoming. Truth in advertising..... they fed us delicious treats!

The program has seen a dramatic shift in just the last 4 years. In 2005 only 13% of the moms decided to raise their children, the rest opted to relinquish their babies for adoption. In 2008 53% of the moms chose to raise their children and they can tell that in 2009 that number will be even higher. This has huge implications for their program - women and their babies stay in the home longer and need different kinds of supports. In answer to this, they have opened a group home for moms and babies, where moms can stay for up to a year. They have a growing number of moms who have "graduated" from their program and are now part of an online community to stay in touch and support each other. THey see that they will need to expand their services to women living in the community.

There have been changes in the women they work with as well. The women today are older and have more education. Many of them were self supporting until they became visibly pregnant, when they then had trouble at work. While in earlier years many of the moms had babies "by mistake" because they missed the time when they could have had an abortion, many more women today are choosing to have and raise their children.

While the government supports some of the costs of the program, they must fundraise for the rest. They get support from the Community Chest of Korea, from the Salvation Army itself, and they get volunteers from various churches and companies. This program actively supports moms talking to people in the government to advocate for their own needs for improved government support. One of the critical needs we discussed was the need for more child care support, and for child care programs that run longer hours. Most working women need to have childcare after 6pm.

Overall it is a very impressive program and we were happy to be able to connect and look forward to staying in touch.

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