Monday, December 13, 2010

Seomna Center

The countdown is on...only 5 days until Brandon gets here. So, I want to make sure I get this blog in before his visit and we begin our travels around Korea. This post is very important to me and my life here. It's something I've been wanting to share for a while.

I work 5 days a week at a place called Seomna Center. Recently, the pastor Rev. Kim and his wife were gracious enough to take the time to tell me about their center and the work that they do. It is inspiring, life-changing work, and I am honored to be a part of this community.

Seomna Center is actually just one part of Bindl Church. Seomna Center (or Seomna House) focuses on work with children, the elderly, and the local community. The Center is located in Taehwadong, which is a very impoverished area, so there is much need here that Seomna is working hard to meet. With the children, I have fellowship with them (playing, eating, supporting) and teach them English. As of yet, I have not done much work with the elderly or community outreach, but I hope to learn more about it next semester. Another branch of Bindl Church focuses on peace workers, migrant workers, women (foreigners) and multicultural families, which is a big issue of discrimination here. The final branch focuses on environment and well-being. I do some work with the foreign laborers (visiting their places of residence and employment) and the foreign women (I do an arts and crafts class with them and teach them English). Last week I was fortunate enough to attend an end-of-the-year celebration for one of the environmental organizations. However, I also hope to learn much more about these branches of the Bindl Church.

The organization has an impressive history. It started in the mid-1980s as a people's church--one that recognizes a community of all people. The poor are prioritized instead of ostracized. Rev. Kim wrote that a people's church "should make community with all beyond class, gender, age, social position, even race and religion, and must work with and for minjung (translated into the masses/poor people) in any situation." We should not meet foreigners or the poor to evangelize to them, but we should greet them as brothers and sisters. What a wonderful philosophy.

To this end, the organization works for the improvement of human rights and working conditions for foreign migrant workers, including advocating/lobbying for changing laws and institutions. They were instrumental in establishing some of Korea's first labor unions. Also, they help in situations of unemployment (even allowing temporarily unemployed people to live in the center), provide support for living necessities (like internet, remittances, cell phones), provide medical services, put on special social activities for an otherwise isolated community (like birthday parties, picnics, cultural events, English and Korean study), operate a migrants' library, provide counseling, build networks in home countries, and support migrants who wish to attend college through scholarships.

Seomna Center, as a part of Bindl Church, was one of the first centers to provide after-school care to kids, and the very first to provide a free feeding children. Back in the 1980s, Seomna was unique, but it's model has caught on, and now there are over 3,600 children's centers in Korea. Still, Seomna leads the pack. In 2009 the government did an assessment of all the children's centers, and Seomna came out as the best. Through this attention and coverage in documentaries and TV broadcasts, Seomna is well-known and emulated. The children at the center not only get top-notch English education ;), but can take part in a nationally-acclaimed drum group that is invited to perform all-over the country, engage in art and music therapy, learn gardening, swimming, cooking and all sorts of other skills, and have a lot of fun on regular outings. So far with them I have gone mountain climbing and attended a show at the symphony hall. The children are all impoverished--in order to apply, families have to submit their financial information. Yet, they are some of the most patient, kind-hearted, loving children I know. I adore them.

Other parts of the church's many programs include providing help for families dealing with alcoholism, networking with schools/NGOs/hospitals/other institutions, reaching out to homeless families, lobbying the government for more pro-poor policies, feeding/visiting the poor and elderly, and I am sure many other activities that I do not yet know about.

Next term, in February, I will not be taking language classes at Hannam, so I am eager to be more engaged at Bindl Church. I want to learn much more about their wonderful work, and do what I can to support their vision of, according to Rev. Kim, a Global Community Movement based on people, especially returning migrants.

This picture is of (clockwise) me, Simon, Haejung, Rev. Kim, Mrs. Kim, and So Young Teacher, who is absolutely wonderful and my main contact at the children's center.