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.