Tuesday, June 14, 2011

6.14.11 Consider yourself well in...

When you hear the word "orphanage" you probably think of a curly-haired kid named Annie, or maybe Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger. Since orphanages have all but disappeared in the U.S. in favor of group homes and foster care, the romanticized musical theatre versions of these characters are all that most Americans know of orphans. In Korea, however, orphanages are still common. Rebecca and I volunteered at an orphanage in Jeonju last Saturday. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the whole experience was surprising.

There were none of the deprivations of orphanage life that you might expect. All of the 40 or so kids we saw were well fed, clean, and comfortably dressed. As with any group of children there was the 5% who are either crying or refusing to cooperate, but the majority of the kids were great - happy, friendly, and glad to be playing outdoors in the sun. Ordinarily, we would have taken pictures, but photography is prohibited to protect the kids' identities.

We played kickball, dodgeball, and had some three-legged races with the kids, then finished up with a balloon stomp.  A few had some pretty annoying behavioral problems; aggressive and recalcitrant, they attempted to run all of the activities to their liking. All of the games invovled significant cheating and an uncomfortable amount of bullying. I imagine this is an outgrowth of the orphanage lifestyle. It seemed there was a clear-cut pecking order beyond the normal stratification of kids by age and gender. There was one boy in particular who seemed to be the boss of the place, and he ruled by threats that he seemed willing to back up. He knew exactly when the adults were far enough away to assert his authority, and he was completely unrepentent when confronted about his thuggery. It was a pretty sobering reminder of how much staff it takes to handle a pack of kids this size. A government that takes on this responsibility has a huge, expensive job at hand.

I urge all of you to do what you can for kids who are wards of the state in your area. Please donate money, clothes, toys, and your time if you can. 

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