The Korean War, which took place from 1950-1953, claimed the lives of over 1.2 million people. The country was devastated and many children were left orphaned and alone. During Hermann Gmeiner’s visit ten years later the effects of the war were still starkly apparent.
Daegu, the fourth largest city in South Korea, was particularly affected by the war, and was an obvious choice for the first SOS Children’s Village in South Korea, and Asia as a whole. The Children’s Village, which opened in 1965, provided children with no one else to care for them with an SOS mother and brothers and sisters. Seven years later, an SOS Youth Home was built to provide a stepping-stone to independence for young adults preparing to leave the Village.
Initially, many of the children living in the SOS Children’s Village were orphans as a result of the War. However, rising unemployment and social problems has led to South Korea sending more children overseas for adoption than any other country in the world.
In order to help children affected who had lost the care of their parents for a variety of reasons, and ensure that they were able to grow up in their own country, we have expanded our work during the last 50 years.
In 1982, the second SOS Children’s Village was built in the outskirts of the country’s capital Seoul. One month later, the third Korean SOS Children’s Village opened in Suncheon, close to Daegu. Today, our three SOS Children’s Villages provide a safe and permanent home to over 250 children in South Korea.
Our work now includes community programmes, reaching out to struggling families to help them to stay together. Our projects include SOS Nurseries, four SOS Social Centres which offer educational support for children in the community, and counseling for families struggling to cope. A Vocational Training Centre in Pohang provides training for SOS mothers and staff. All together, the Training Centre and Social Centres reach out to over 4,000 people in the community.
When she was eight, Sang Hee* came to live at SOS Children’s Village Daegu. Now a teenager, she tells her story.
“I came to live at SOS Children’s Village Daegu when I was in second grade. My parents were divorced and I used to live with my father. He used to run a clothing business which had failed. My father became depressed, would not eat regularly and became very sick. This was when I was taken in by SOS Children’s Village Daegu.
I found it very difficult to adapt to life at SOS. I did not have any siblings so it was hard for me to adjust with my SOS brothers and sisters. I was shy and did not know how to interact with them.
I am older now and can foresee an independent life for myself in the future. Living here in SOS does not feel difficult at all now. Everyone was very good and kind to me.
The most important thing I developed at SOS was my self-confidence. I was often teased by children about my parents’ divorce and this used to be hard to bear. But my SOS family loved me and showed full faith in me. I always think, ‘Yes, I can make it if I do my best. Though I was a poor girl before, I can be one of the best girls now.’
I would like to pursue a course in nursing science as it is my dream to become a nurse like Nightingale. I would like to treat the suffering people with love and kindness, the same way SOS families do.”
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons
Find out more about our work in South Korea.