Victims of war and social upheaval must fend for themselves. Yet many cannot, especially the children. Amidst a general struggle for survival, rare is the person who will reach out to help others. All the rarer in bleak, poverty-stricken surroundings like those encountered by KIM IM SOON on Koje Island, South Korea, in 1952.
It was to this remote place that KIM IM SOON fled when her husband vanished during the Korean War. She took up teaching to support herself and her young daughter. One day a desperate welfare official left seven abandoned infants in her charge. Accepting this daunting, unasked -- for responsibility as a challenge from God, KIM set up Ai Kwang Won -- the Garden of Love and Light.
KIM started with a stony patch of hillside overlooking Koje Bay, in a crude hut built of earth and thatch. Year by year she made improvements, adding new and better buildings on adjoining lands that she bought with money given by her parents and friends. She also received help from church congregations and her former classmates at Ewha Woman's University. But KIM managed largely on her own, building Ai Kwang Won without regular external support.
KIM later founded an institute where older orphans and needy girls were trained to become self-supporting, eventually adding a technical school for boys, a day nursery, and Korea's first youth hostel. All the while she accepted more children, some 750 of them by 1978. In that year, there being few abandoned children or orphans in now-prosperous South Korea, she converted Ai Kwang Won into a home for mentally handicapped children. A special school and new facilities for physical and occupational therapy and vocational training followed.
In 1986 KIM opened Dandelion House for severely retarded children. Life there is full of cheer. The children live with music and bright colors, amidst fruit trees and flowers, overlooking the grand landscape of Koje's hills and bay. Every child is given special attention; for most, a cake and brightly wrapped gifts on their birthdays are the first in their lives. In running this home, KIM is inspired by the thought: "If you raise a child with love, he will grow up to shed light in all the world."
From Ai Kwang Won, KIM has energized community life on all of Koje. She has helped aid-giving organizations find the neediest groups and individuals and led in founding Koje-do Christian Hospital. She has taught local villagers about family planning, helped organize a credit union benefiting thousands, and opened a library for children. Recently she established the Koje branch of the Korean Legal Aid Center for Family Relations. KIM's good works have inspired others to follow her lead, one reason why her grateful neighbors call her the "Queen of Koje Island."
Today Ai Kwang Won is staffed by more than eighty professionals and aides. Aside from monies earned selling its own handicrafts and farm products, it receives a partial subsidy from the government, as well as funds from patrons near and far. As superintendent, KIM presides cheerfully with no thought for herself. Her own accommodations are spartan, her day-to-day clothes hand-me-downs. At sixty-four, she moves nimbly about the sloping grounds of Ai Kwang Won from dawn to dusk. She says, "When God calls me home one day, I will be able to say I've tried my best."
In electing KIM IM SOON to receive the 1989 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes her nurturing hundreds of abandoned and handicapped children to adulthood in an atmosphere of beauty and love.