From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."


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Halmoni

3There is a halmoni (old woman/grandmother) I always see on my way to work. She is too frail and too old to fend for herself, but she sits in front of a cellphone shop everyday, selling vegetables to passersby. I bought vegetables from her a few times and left her a little tip. I couldn’t just give her money. I know that she would not accept money from me, because that’s how they are in Korea. Even when the person is in need or too weak and too old to work, he will not beg for money. He will work hard for it.
One day, I invited halmoni to eat with me, but perhaps she couldn’t understand my not-so-fluent Korean or she couldn’t trust a stranger, so she refused. I would usually greet her and she’d smile back at me. If there is one thing that matters to a Korean elder the most, that would be respect from a younger person in the form of a slight bow or a jovial greeting of “Anyeonghaseyo!” 
Last week, when she saw me, she called me out and told me to sit in front of her. She said that she was going to give me some vegetables for free. I said I still have some in the house, the ones that I bought from her, but she insisted and kept asking me to sit down and wait.
As she was getting the vegetables ready, I sat there, looking at her, hoping that she is not really alone in this world, that she has children or grandchildren who care for her or visit her sometimes. I remember my mother-in-law telling me: “Those old people you see in Korea who sell vegetables on the street or collect empty boxes and scraps are not poor. They are probably richer than us. Working is a hobby for them. Don’t feel sorry for them.” How I hope that my mother-in-law is right… that the halmoni I always see on my way to the academy doesn’t have to work that hard to make a living… that to her, sitting there for hours, rain or shine, to sell vegetables is just a pastime… that even if she doesn’t work at that age, she will have food to eat and enough money to get by.
When halmoni gave me the vegetables which she carefully wrapped in a plastic, she held my hands and said thank you before I could thank her first. She put a bracelet on my arm and smiled at me with such warmth and kindness. I said thank you and told her what a beautiful bracelet she gave me. I bid her goodbye and headed home.
As I was walking, halmoni‘s voice kept reverberating in my head: “Are you the one who gave me money?”
“I bought vegetables from you before, Halmoni.”
“No, no… you gave me money. It was you.”
“Come here, come here. Sit, sit here. I will give you vegetables. Do you like vegetables?”
I thought that I was helping halmoni, but no, I wasn’t… she was the one helping me to realize that a nobody like me can be a somebody to someone.
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Kopino Reunites with Her Korean Father: An I-Witness Documentary

Photo taken from: gmanetwork.com

Photo taken from: gmanetwork.com

Kopino (코피노) pertains to children born to a Korean father and a Filipina mother.

Two years ago, I wrote an article about “The Sad Plight of Abandoned Kopino Children in the Philippines” after watching an I-Witness documentary about Kopino children searching for their Korean fathers and the good Samaritans who are helping them.

The good Samaritans are Mr. Bum Sik (Cedric) Son, a Korean, and his Filipina wife, Mrs. Normi Garcia Son. They founded Kopino Children Association Inc. to give Kopinos under their care free education, shelter, moral support and most of all hope for the children to see their father.

On Saturday, May 9, a day after children in Korea honored their parents by celebrating Parents’ Day, I-Witness featured the poignant reunion of a Kopino and her ailing father in Korea whom she hasn’t seen in six years.

Below is the full episode, entitled “Remember Me”, which was uploaded on Youtube by user Kapuso Ako:

Get your tissues ready. This father-daughter reunion will move you to tears.

If you don’t mind cuts, these links to a four-part episode, uploaded by user I WANT PINOY TV, have a wider screen for better viewing.

As of now, there are no programs or organizations supported by the Korean government and the Philippine government that cater to the needs of Kopino children. In fact, there is no data on the number of Kopino children in the Philippines abandoned by their Korean fathers. The problem is rather personal, so most of the children and their mothers don’t have anywhere to turn to, except to seek help from non-profit organizations such as the one founded by Mr. and Mrs. Son. Hopefully, there will be more Mr. and Mrs. Son’s who will reach out to Kopino children and help them achieve their utmost desire… to see their father in Korea.

If you are a Kopino who needs help, you may visit Kopino Facebook homepage. Please do not trust any other organizations. According to Mrs. Son, other groups try to lure mothers of Kopino children to file court cases against the Korean fathers in exchange for a large sum of money. This is never the intent of Kopino Children Association, except in cases where the Korean father refuses to recognize his Kopino child/ren, like what happened to a 27-year-old Kopino Mr. Son assisted recently. The Korean father, who has another child to another Filipina, abnegated his parental responsibility, so filing of a case was recommended.

The funds used by the organization come mainly from the founders’ own pockets, with help from one or two Korean sponsors who are based in Korea. The capacity to assist Kopinos is quite limited, but the need to be there for these children is great. The organization needs all the help it can get not only financially, but also in raising awareness and educating the Korean and Filipino society about what some unfortunate Kopinos go through and how we can all make a difference in the lives of these children.

For those who would like to help by donating to Kopino Children Association, please visit the organization’s website. There you will find a link to the banks where you can send your donations.