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.

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