Monday, December 20, 2010

Evelyn Robinson

From Rick Boas:

Hee Jung and I have had the pleasure of "meeting" Evelyn Robinson via email.

Born and raised in Scotland, she gave up her son for adoption in 1970. She moved to Australia in 1982, and reunited with her son when he was 21 years old. Evelyn has been involved with post-adoption support services in Australia as a social worker and educator since 1989, and currently provides training for professionals through the government-funded Post Adoption Support Service (PASS). She has written and published four books about adoption. Her most recent, Adoption Separation - Then and now, will be available in early 2011.

In Evelyn’s first book, Adoption and Loss - The Hidden Grief, she proposed that the grief associated with adoption loss is disenfranchised. This approach is now widely accepted in the adoption community.

Evelyn frequently trains and lectures on adoption separation around the globe, and has presented with her son. She has never charged a fee for these engagements. More information about Evelyn and her work is available from

Evelyn kindly forwarded the full text of the apology to birthmothers and their children by the Parliament of Western Australia (in October), and accompanying articles--all of which are riveting--via the Australian Journal of Adoption:

What really moved me was the following, beautifully written--and not requested by me! Thank you Evelyn!:

I was contacted recently by the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network. Please visit their web site at I hope that you'll read the inspiring story of how the network was founded by an adoptive father.

Expectant mothers in Korea who are unmarried and not supported by their families or the fathers of their children are being pressured into agreeing for their children to be adopted. Their situation is very similar to the situation in countries like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, Canada and the US in the middle to late twentieth century. This is causing heartbreaking and unnecessary family separations.

More than 200,000 Korean children have already been adopted out to other countries in the last forty years or so and some have also been lost to domestic adoption in that period. This means that there are several hundred thousand mothers in Korea who are mourning the loss of their children, as well as fathers, grandparents, siblings and other family members.

Groups such as KUMSN are trying to change the social and financial climate to allow unmarried mothers to raise their children.

Anything we can do to help them would be much appreciated. They are not asking for financial support, but it would be great for them to know that people around the world are concerned about this situation.

If you feel inclined, you can follow them on Facebook, you can contribute to their newsletter or you can contact them via their web site and offer messages of encouragement and support.

Also, in my opinion, every country which accepts children from Korea for adoption is supporting these painful and unnecessary family breakdowns and so you may want to make your feelings known to politicians and policy-makers in your own country and ask them to consider the plight of unmarried mothers in Korea and refuse to support the removal of their children.

I am sure that change will come in Korea and anything that we can do to make that happen sooner rather than later will mean that we are contributing to the establishment of social justice for families in Korea.

Many thanks for considering this.

Please feel free to distribute this information.


Friday, November 12, 2010

KWDI Study on Moms Published

As a "respectful outsider," I see my role as one of raising the visibility of the issue of unwed Korean pregnant women, mothers and their children, supporting efforts by Koreans (including academics, the media, government, service providers, and the moms themselves) to make better lives for them, and catalyzing change.

It is has been particularly satisfying to work with our friends at Korean Womens Development Institute, whose studies on the issue are already having an impact. KWDI just released their eagerly-awaited and much-needed study How to Improve Government Welfare Services for Low-Income Unwed Mothers in Korea, by Drs. Lee Mijeong and Kim Hyeyoung and their colleagues. Though the situation of unwed Korean moms is getting increased attention, and moms are receiving some increased support, prejudice and discrimination against them are still commonplace. Moms--especially the older moms--are not receiving the support they need.

The study discusses the moms' situation, needs, difficulties they experience, what support is available (and what the moms report they receive), and makes policy recommendations. Here are some significant (and timely) points:

1. Moms age 24 and under receive the most benefits, yet over 77% of unwed moms are 25 and older. Support needs to be based on the child's age, not the mother's.
2. Many moms don't know what benefits are available. Moms report that local welfare office employees are underinformed re: benefits, and are rude to them.
3. Though there are laws which grant maternity leave and prohibit discrimination at work, these are not enforced.
4. Unwed fathers need to be held responsible for their children; mothers need to be able to bring action without fear of reprisal.
5. Childcare allowance is insufficient.
6. A comprehensive database and statistics on unwed moms are needed.

KUMSN is proud to have underwritten this study, and we hope that this scholarly study from a highly respected Korean research institute will help change attitudes, catalyze change, and bring about policies that will benefit the moms and their children, so that they become true equals in Korean society.

Richard Boas, MD
Founder and President, KUMSN

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dr. Boas' reflections on the August 2010 trip

What made this trip, my 9th, particularly rewarding, is that the issue of unwed moms and their children has become quite visible, and very much on the "radar screen." Forums such as the ones in Jeju and Gyeonggido--with active participation at both by unwed moms themselves--and government officials in attendance, were a wonderful demonstration of the active interest in the moms' situation, and ways of addressing it. I was so glad to hear the matter discussed at the recent IKAA Conference, which also included a joint presentation between an unwed mom and adoptee about their joint business venture--so that adoptees themselves are now more aware, and in a position themselves to address the issue.

The moms themselves are increasingly coming forward. I long ago lost count of the number of media interviews they have granted. May their numbers, voices and impact increase, in the cause of a socially just and truly democratic Korea. A recent "first," which we were so pleased to be an audience to, was a joint meeting between the newly-formed unwed moms' organization, Miss Mammamia, and Hanbumo Association. They have much common ground.

Not only is the matter of assistance for unwed moms very much an issue, the type of assistance is being increasingly discussed. Our belief--and that of the moms--is that these single-parent families are best supported in the community. Not only is this more cost-effective, it keeps moms and their children in the community, where they belong, and helps to decrease the stigma against them.

A group that I want to see become more involved is the Korean philanthropic community--corporations, foundations and individuals. Existing NGO's working for the moms, as well as a new one, formed by the moms themselves, need assistance. I am so heartened by the great interest shown by Korea Foundation for Women. This need is real, Korea itself is responsible for--and capable of--addressing the issue.

It was a pleasure and privilege to meet and speak with Professor David Smolin, a US legal scholar, now very much aware of problems of Korean adoption and Korean unwed moms. I welcome his continued interest in and help.

Since I began my work on behalf of Korean unwed moms, I have been saddened by the belief among Koreans that the mother alone is blamed for her pregnancy, and saddled with the responsibility for child-rearing and financial support of herself and her child. So many have been pressured--by families and by fathers-to-be--to get an abortion (96% among pregnancies of unwed women in Korea) or to give up her child to adoption, lest the reputation of the father or either family be ruined. This is unfair, unjust and discriminatory. Unwed fathers' responsibility is becoming increasingly discussed in Korea, and taken seriously, an important step. Koreans we spoke with "got it" when I quoted a US academic article which states that when men are held responsible for the children they father, birthrates go down.

We are delighted to assist Salvation Army/Duri Home in setting up a new Thrift Store/Coffee Shop in Seoul. Not only do we hope this will become a viable business (as existing stores are), but provide employment and valuable business experience for unwed moms. It was exciting to hear from the moms who will be working there. I look forward to my white chocolate mocha at the new store.

A big "thank you" to KUMSN staff for everything you do on behalf of social justice and progress for the moms and their children. I remain confident that Korea will solve this issue, and am proud we are playing a part.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Last whirlwind days

The last two days of the trip were a whirlwind and now we are home. We talked with journalists (see the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network on Facebook for links to potential resulting articles), legislators, researchers and service providers. We visited the Hambumo Center for single and unwed parents located in one of the Seoul Healthy Family Centers and learned about their work and shared ideas about working with moms and their children.

One of the remarkable aspects of our conversations in the last few days and really all week, was the discussion of unwed fathers. When we started this work, the entire focus was on the moms. If we mentioned fathers, everyone said sure they exist, but no one will focus on their responsibility. Here we are just a couple of years later and many times this week, in many different settings, people wanted to talk about the responsibilities of unwed fathers, the fathers of unwed mother’s children. There are a number of efforts under way to submit legislation that would require fathers to pay child support. It is clear that the invisibility of unwed fathers is not going to last much longer.

Looking back on the trip, we have a sense of accomplishment. In the last year the government has increased funding for younger unwed mothers. The number of newspaper articles and television reports on the moms has increased dramatically. The national government and some provincial governments are funding programs and research on unwed moms and their children. One of three panels at the IKAA adoption research symposium was devoted to mothers who relinquish and those who don’t. We participated in two strong forums addressing the needs of unwed moms outside of Seoul, in Jeju and Gyeonggi-do. And we hosted the first meeting between unwed mothers and single mothers associations. We met with Professor Smolin and heard his talk at the IKAA symposium. And there was so much more. Wow!

We are celebrating how quickly things change in Korea and how strong the unwed moms are becoming. Their voice is getting every stronger and they speaking out in more forums then every before. At the same time, we are sobered by their suffering and the continued prejudice and discrimination they experience. While the government has increased some kinds of funding for younger moms, most moms continue to struggle with housing and financial needs. There is much more to be done.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gyeonggido Family and Women’s Research Institute Forum

Wednesday, August 4, found us in Gyeonggido participating in a forum addressing the needs of unwed mothers in their province. This was the first forum to address these issues in this province. Gyeonggido is the most populous province, as it is the area around Seoul, and is considered a microcosm of the country, containing cities, towns and farms, and of course mountains. The forum was attended by legislators from local councils, researchers, service providers, and unwed moms themselves. The turn out was much higher then they expected, over 50 people.

Dr. Boas gave an opening talk and Ellen Furnari delivered a talk written by Dr. Cheryl Mitchell, sharing information about services for families in the US, mostly based on economic need rather than marriage status. The highlight though was the research presented. This research is the first in the province on unwed mothers. They chose to focus on mothers in the community. They sent a questionnaire to over 700 mothers and approximately 40% were returned.

While the research has not been completed yet, and there is more analysis to be done, they shared some important findings. They estimated that between 400 to 600 children are born each year to unwed moms. Thus they estimate there are at least 2000 unwed moms in their province, and they believe the number is rising rapidly. The average age of the mothers in the survey was 30 and 51% had completed high school. About 10% are still connected with their babies father, while 49% reported no contact at all with the father. Interestingly 21% said they wanted vocational training but only 8% were aware of vocational training opportunities in the province. Most of the moms live in apartments paying monthly rent and many of the apartments are in basements. Perhaps related to this 42% of the moms reported themselves as in bad health with 12% of the children also in bad health. The average of the their children is 4.5 with 66% of the children 6 or younger ( Korean age starts at 1 when a child is born, so in American terms 66% of the children are 5 or younger). The moms reported that receiving financial support for their living expenses was the number one issue for them, with the need for housing support being a close second. As soon as we can KUMSN will post a copy of the research results as it provides important guidance for policy makers.

After the presentations there was a very lively question and answer session where a number of unwed moms spoke about their own experiences being treated rudely by social workers, needing financial support, the challenges of being discriminated against in finding work and other aspects of their struggle. One of the moms asked why the shelters for unwed moms do not hire unwed moms themselves. The session closed with a clear commitment from Gyeonggido leaders to work for an increased budget to support the moms and in particular to create more publicly supported housing, job training, more child care options and financial support. Better training for government social workers was also highlighted as an important element in treating moms with respect.

Over all it was a very satisfying forum and we left with high hopes about changes to come in the next year.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Research Symposium of the International Korean Adoptees Associations - IKAA

Today we spent the whole day at IKAA'a research symposium. This was the first day of IKAA's gathering in Seoul. Of particular interest was the first panel that addressed the situation and concerns of unwed moms. Research was presented about the history of discrimination against women in Korea and the changes over the years to recognize women’s equality in Korean law. However it was pointed out that while laws can change, it is much harder to change social practices and there remains a big gap in the salaries between men and women, and in their roles in society.

Han Boon Young and Yang Min-Ok presented their research on the counseling received by pregnant unwed moms in facilities. For the moms who stayed in facilities run by adoption agencies, the research found that these moms received counseling that urged them to relinquish their children, for their own sakes and for the baby to have a better life. They also reported stories of agencies adopting out babies without proper consent or within a shorter time frame then was promised. These moms had to fight to get their children back. Overall it was a sobering look at current practices and certainly highlights the conflict of interest between the adoption side of an agency and the side that serves pregnant women.

Given our interest in unwed moms, the highlight for us of the afternoon sessions was a presentation by Professor Smolin, whom we had met earlier in the week. He gave a good overview of the current situation in international adoptions world -wide. His focus is on unethical adoptions, for the purpose of improving the systems so that all international adoptions, and really ALL adoptions are conducted within the parameters of international conventions and laws. He discussed the ways that children are ‘laundered” after being acquired by force, financially or via fraud. In some cases children are kidnapped, in some cases families are offered what seems to them like large sums of money at a time when they are very poor and struggling to feed themselves, and sometimes families are told their children will be in school or it will be just a temporary separation to help them out. These children are then given papers with some other story which presents them as orphans, and adopted to other countries. He discussed what he is beginning to understand about the Korean system, in terms of the tremendous pressure put on women to either have an abortion or relinquish their children, and the closed system of domestic adoption. He ended with a call for Korean adoptees to work to expose the unethical and possibly illegal practices of Korean adoption agencies, both in Korea and in their home countries, in particular with the adoption agencies in their home countries.

Overall, we learned a great deal about not only the areas of concern to us, but also about issues related to language, the struggle of adoptees who now live in Korea after growing up elsewhere, and aspects of artistic expressions that reflect the challenged identities and emerging reflections of adoptees who grew up in other countries, in primarily white families and cultures.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Talking about adoption and unwed moms

Yesterday we had our jet propulsion packs on. The morning started with a great meeting with Professor David Smolin. Professor Smolin is an expert on ethical adoptions. He has been in S. Korea teaching a short course and will speak at the IKAA research forum today (Tuesday, 8/2). We had a lively exchange about the situation for unwed moms in S. Korea, how that relates to adoption practices, the Hague Convention and other related topics. As the large majority of babies adopted from S. Korea abroad are the children of unwed moms, we discussed the stories we have been told about women being pressured to relinquish their children in facilities run by adoption agencies and the heartbreaking stories of moms who had to fight to get their babies returned when they changed their minds just days after relinquishment.

Later in the day we spent time at the Duri Home unwed mothers facility. They also have a group home for moms and their babies. Women can enter the group home with children under 24 months and can stay for up to 3 years. This provides crucial help during an important transition period. However, there is only room for 8 moms and their babies in the group home. There are a number of such group homes around the country, but not enough for all the moms. Many moms live with friends and family when they can’t afford a place of their own. Precarious living situations add stress to moms' lives and thus to their babies early years as well.

After visiting the group home we returned to Duri Home for a great home-cooked meal with the moms in residence. Duri Home is a program of the Salvation Army in S. Korea. They plan to open a resale store soon, similar to ones in the US, with support from KUMSN and the Korea Foundation for Women. The store will sell used and donated new clothes and have a coffee shop. It will provide a place for a number of the moms to get work experience as well as a place to sell their craft and art work. We were able to hear from the mothers who will be in charge of the various new ventures. They are extremely committed to making the store a success. This is an exciting and much needed program. Duri home expects that with the help of some start up funds, the store can become self-sustaining within one year.

After twelve hours of stimulating conversation and encouraging site visits, it was time to go home and get some rest. Today we are off to the IKAA (International Korean Adoptees Associations) research conference.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Sunday in Seoul with unwed moms, single moms and KUMSN volunteers

We began the day with a lovely brunch for the KUMSN volunteers. Several of the volunteers tutor moms in English. One volunteer does art therapy with the mothers and with their children. Several volunteers help with translation and proof reading. It was very inspiring to hear how committed and thoughtful they are about wanting to help create change. The sincerity of the moms is an inspiration to all of us, including our excellent volunteers.

In the afternoon we had a ceremony with the Korean Foundation for Women to formally acknowledge the work KUMSN is doing with the Foundation. Dr. Cho is the President of the foundation and a thoughtful woman who is very supportive to the unwed moms and the work of KUMSN. After the more formal presentations, two groups shared their current work and plans for the rest of the year. The Miss Mama Mia group of unwed moms is transitioning into a more formal organization, the Korean Unwed Mothers Families Association (KUMFA). They are hard at work on many projects, including:

1. Providing counseling via email and phone and occasionally in person, to moms who are faced with difficulties regarding the choice to raise their children, or other child-raising issues.

2. Building the membership and involvement of new unwed moms.

3. Outreach to women in unwed mother facilities.

4. Working with journalists to help bring their stories to the wider society.

5. Working to make the government services currently available work better for moms and to increase the support the government provides for moms.

The Hanbumo (which means "single parent" in Korean) Association also shared their current work. The Hanbumo Association is a coalition of single mothers' organizations. Single mothers were married when they had children, but are now divorced or widowed. Korea had a huge increase in divorce in the late 1990s after the economic collapse and this high rate has continued. It has created huge social issues, since divorce used to be very uncommon. Like the unwed moms, the Hanbumo Assocation provides outreach and counseling to single mothers. They have ongoing street campaigns where they engage in street theater and hand out information to pedestrians about single mothers' issues. They are engaged in training and study to improve their own understanding of Korean society, to strengthen their own self-confidence, and to become better counselors. In addition they are working to improve their own internal structures and organization. They are all about empowering single mothers to make certain that government policy, laws, and social programs in Korea better serve all single parents.

After the initial presentations, there was a long and lively discussion during which both organizations shared experiences and developed ways they can support each other. As this was the first joint meeting, there was a lot to learn from each other about the work to improve the lives for all families, for all mothers and children. It was very exciting to listen to the exchange and imagine how they will work together.

We finished the day with a fantastic Korean meal with many of the participants. Among the delights was watching the little children run around so happily. It is painful to realize that without each others support and caring, these mother-child bonds might have been broken. It is such an honor and joy to be part of their support system.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Changes in the wind

Dr. Boas is back in S. Korea. It is an exciting time to be here as there are significant changes taking place. There was a wonderful series of articles in the Yonhap newspaper, ( click here to reach the KUMSN website to read them), the government started a number of new programs for younger unwed moms in April, and most importantly more moms are coming forward to talk about their experiences and work for better services to meet their needs.
We started the day by flyng to Jeju Island for a whirlwind day. The Director of Aesanwon, an organization that serves unwed moms and their children, organized a round table workshop with presentations by Dr. Boas, Dr. Cheryl Mitchell (that was presented by Ellen Furnari, as Dr. Mitchell was unable to come on this trip), and Ms. Kwon. In addition there were presentations about the support for single mothers in Canada and in Denmark, as well presentations by unwed moms. Attendees included people from the provincial legislature and provincial and city offices. The program was made possible by a grant from the Community Chest of Jeju.
The presentations primarily focused on the services and experiences of unwed moms in other countries, sharing the breadth of support that many developed countries have, as well as the very diverse approaches and array of services between countries. The stories shared by the moms themselves, of their struggles and challenges, were both moving and clear testimony for continued changes in both government programs and social attitudes.
Moms and their babies who choose to live in facilities have a huge challenge when they must move out and in to communities. Often lacking the resources to rent an apartment, perhaps lacking work, feeling very vulnerable, often cut off from their families, facing social stigmatization and discrimination in the work place, it is a difficult time. While the government has increased supports available to younger moms under 24, it is estimated that 2/3 of unwed moms are older. There is much work still to be done.
We then had a fantastic meal with the participants of the roundtable, visited the Healthy Family Center in Jeju city and then visited Aesanwan itself. Located about 45 minutes outside of Jeju city, it is a fantastic center, very comfortable for the moms and babies, with many resources such as computers and sewing machines, so that moms can learn marketable skills while also learning to raise their children. Aesanwan also has a small group home, which we were unable to visit. We left thinking that it must be doubly hard to leave such a supportive facility, as it is clear the women feel safe and supported there, and face such challenges once they leave.
Stay tuned for our next updates.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Seoul February 2010 last post from home

We are now home. The trip went by so fast and yet each day was very long, packed with learning and enjoying the company of so many dedicated and inspriring people. Along the way Dr. Boas, Ms. Kwon and some of the moms were interviewed for numerous articles and even a radio station. Just before we arrived some of the moms had been interviewed for a TV show which ran while we were there. There are links to many of the articles and reports on the KUMSN web site (for the English versions). Probably the biggest shift in our work, reflected in many was during this trip, is the activity of the moms themselves, via their own advocacy and own voices. This made us feel like we are working with moms rather then just on their behalf.

Some final highlights included a lengthy conversation with Ms. Park Young Mi, from KWAU who functions as an informal adviser to the Miss Mamamia organization of moms. She shared with us some very helpful insights in to the strengths and challenges facing their organization. We also visited the Kids and Future Foundation which provides support to Learning Centers in many parts of the country. These Learning Centers provide extracurricular activities for children whose families can't afford it otherwise, such as music and art, going to the movies and other fun things, and learning about how to manage their money as they get older. We hope that if one or more of the moms decide to start a learning center, they can partner with the Kids and Future Foundation to do so.

Our last day included a meeting with Dr. Kim and Dr. Lee from the Korean Women's Development Institute. Both have been engaged in valuable research on unwed moms in Korea for the last couple of years. Our discussion reflected the need to both increase government support for unwed moms AND the sharing of information about current government programs with moms. Many of the moms do not know much about what government programs they are currently eligible for, and so don't apply. This makes it appear that the funds set aside for such programs are not needed. We learned the government is planning an outreach effort that might include the creation of a web portal, to explain all the programs to the moms.

We left exhausted and inspired to continue raising visibility and support for the great work the moms and others are doing to improve the lives of unwed moms and their children, in S. Korea.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Seoul February 2010 take 3

Days become like weeks and months, we meet so many wonderful people, in various organizations, concerned about moms, or hearing about unwed moms for the first time. It is amazing how much can be done in one day!

Continuing the saga from yesterday, some of the further highlights of our trip include.... we met with a team manager from one of the Seoul City Single Parent centers. They have a team that focuses in particular on supporting unwed moms. The center currently has about 30 unwed moms that come regularly to programs and for counseling and all and many more who come now and again. The center offers counseling, self help groups, some vocational training, cultural programs, and works hard to support moms self esteem. This program is less then a year old, and it is wonderful to see how quickly moms learn about this resource and get involved.

We visited the Anti Corruption and Civil Rights Commission. The division we visited investigates complaints under the ombudsman program, in social welfare and labor. They received complaints about adoption related issues, did a thorough investigation and published a strong set of recommendations relating to adoption but also support for unwed moms in November, 2009. We wanted to understand more about their work, and how they got interested in the issue. Their work is to follow up and investigate complaints relating to government actions and civil rights specifically in the fields of social welfare and labor. We had a good exchange of views and information with them, and they affirmed that if unwed moms have complaints about violations of their civil rights relating to social support and work, they would be happy to receive complaints. It is good to know there is such a strong recourse for moms and really for all Koreans.

One of the major highlights of this trip is the forum regarding social support for unwed moms, hosted by the Korean Women's Development Institute or KWDI. Papers were presented on the incomplete birth statistics in Korea which make it hard to know how many unwed moms there are; the painful impact for mothers of relinquishing a child for adoption; the experience of unwed moms who had to struggle to get their babies back from adoption agencies; and the results of research on the needs of unwed moms in Korea. After the papers were presented, there was a response from discussants, and then a general question and answer period. The papers and discussants came from KWDI, government, academia, journalism, NGO and unwed mothers themselves. The paper presented by an unwed mom about their struggles with adoption agencies was very well received. There were moms and their children in the audience as well. Everyone felt it was a great success, that it was the first time a number of important issues were addressed in such a serious forum. It was the first time one of the unwed moms spoke at this kind of forum as well. Many people remarked that even two years ago, this kind of forum could not take place. It is hard to describe how wonderful it was to be talking about unwed moms WITH unwed moms on the panel and in the audience. It is no longer talking about people when they are not there. It was a truly moving experience and rich food for thought in the presentations as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Seoul February 2010 take 2

We continue to be very busy. It is such an honor and privilege to meet wonderful Koreans who care so deeply about unwed moms and the issues they face.

We had a lovely breakfast meeting with Ms. Lee Myong Sook, an attorney who has a special concern about women and children. When she became a lawyer about 20 years ago, she was one of 10 women lawyers in the whole country. She told us that now there are over 1,200 women lawyers. Things change quickly here. She is also the first woman to chair the Human Rights division of the Korean Bar Association. She has been working hard to develop a network of lawyers willing to work pro bono on human rights related cases. She expressed an sensitivity and concern about the adoption issues and unwed mom issues discussed and it seems she will be a good resource for unwed moms.

One of the highlights of our trip was spending the afternoon in a workshop with the Miss Mamamia groups. The Miss Mamamias are unwed moms who are raising their children. Currently there are over 40 active members and a much wider network of members and supporters. The workshop presented a lot of information about services available in the community and in particular related to group homes that serve unwed moms. While the moms engaged in discussion and questions and answers, their babies were being cared for by volunteers. After the meeting, the steering committee of the group went to dinner with us and of course brought along their babies. Such a beautiful experience, talking with moms while playing with their children who ranged in age from about 2 months to 4 years old. Each of these moms experienced significant pressure to have an abortion and/or to relinquish their child for adoption. Many of them have endured extreme hardships and painful struggles to raise their children. They are strong and dedicated women and moms and it was such a joy to spend an evening with them. Each of these mother/child families is precious and a testament to their determination to keep their family together.

The Miss Mamamias will be establishing a formal organization this year, registered with the Ministry of gender equality. While they have a more extensive strategic plan, their priorities for the year include: strengthening their organization and outreach to new members; improving public attitudes toward unwed moms; and healing the relationships with their parents, as many of the moms have been estranged from their own birth families. For this last area, they plan to have some group activities and counseling and a three generation camp.

We also visited Doori Home again, which is a group home for unwed pregnant moms, and affiliated with the S. Korean Salvation Army. Women who keep their babies can stay there for several months while they figure out jobs, where to live, and just generally get themselves situated to be a successful family of two. Doori home is working on ways to help these unwed moms get job training, save money, find more secure living, learn about parenting, and many other very supportive activities. It was a pleasure to see our friends there. Doori Home is hoping to open a store, similar to others the Salvation Army already operates, which sells both new and used clothing and household goods, and operates a coffee bar, appropriately named "Sally's Coffee". It will be a place that moms can work, get experience, and also sell crafts and other home made items.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Seoul February 2010

We are happily back in Seoul. So many things are happening so quickly, it is an amazing testament to the capacity of Korean culture to change quickly.

One of our first visits was to the Korean Legal Aid Center for Family Relations, where we met with the President, Ms. Kwak. The center has been serving women and their children and families for many years. Much of their earlier work focused on issues such as domestic violence, divorce, and issues confronting seniors in Korea. They have seen a big change in the last ten years, with the dramatic increase in single moms and unwed moms raising their children. The rapid changes in family composition have been reflected in significant changes in a number of laws relating to families. For instance we learned that it is now possible for parents who divorce, or who were never married, to have shared or joint custody, rather then the previous system which granted custody to only one parent and which tended to favor the father. The Center is already a great resource for free legal services for unwed moms and they are committed to being available to support moms as needed. One of the ways they plan to support moms is to work for legislation that would require unwed fathers to help support their children in certain circumstances, even if they don’t have custody of the child. This would be a huge benefit to moms who have such difficult economic struggles.

We again visited the I/You/Us Center run by Aeranwon. This center served close to 300 women who were pregnant or raising their child alone via a crisis hot line, as well with ongoing counseling, concrete support such as helping with medical bills, rent, or other small, emergency financial supports, job training, a mentor program and generally being a place that unwed moms can come to feel connected and that there are people who care about them and their children. The center also facilitates popular self help groups, were moms are able to help each other out, share resources and hard won experience with newer moms, and generally build a supportive community for each other. It is wonderful to see the center growing and reaching ever more moms and their children.

Our visit to the Haja Center was exciting. The Haja Center is an alternative education center providing many kinds of educational experiences ( )for young people, emphasizing creativity and social change. They provide internships and job shadowing and support to develop social enterprise, and they serve a wide range of both younger and older people. We met with storytellers who help moms tell stories to their babies while still in the womb. We listened to one of the bands play an old John Denver song. We visited many different rooms full of the creative products of the people involved at the center. Our conversation with Profesor Cho Han Hae Joang, who founded the center helped us appreciate how committed they are to embracing the diversity of Korean people. We felt very hopeful that this could be a wonderful opportunity for some of the unwed moms to both learn new skills while developing renewed self esteem and confidence. There seem to be so many different opportunities for participants to explore different kinds of work and gain a better understanding of how they want to participate in the work world. We left hoping that by the time we return again in 6 months or so, that a number of moms will at least have visited and possible will have decided to join in some of the programs.

Our schedule is packed as usual and there will be more to report soon.