HIGHLIGHTS

  • AUGUSTINE JOUNG RYUL KANG, who became the first president of Sung-Ga, and his associates were concerned with shifting the emphasis in postwar Korea from relief to self-help.
  • He became, as he had in Korea, the moving spirit, enlisting devoted organizers of credit unions. He worked in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Singapore and, until 1975, in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his practical democracy and use of regional cooperation to foster economically and humanly sound credit unions.”

 CITATION

Mobilizing the modest savings and the shared concern of many is the secret to generating capital for all types of progress. The key questions, however, are who will manage and who will use this capital. Small funds well used often can accomplish more than large loans encumbered by bureaucratic restraints. Group savings also induce people to think ahead for their own and a national future, rather than spend immediately all they earn.

Organizations to accumulate savings by members were informally operating centuries ago in several of Asia’s ancient civilizations. It was the Germans in the mid-19th century, however, who first institutionalized credit unions. From Scandinavia and the Rochdale community in England, the cooperative idea spread to Canada and America and both American and European missionaries organized credit unions in Asia. By 1970 national and regional associations joined to form the World Council of Credit Unions, headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

Sung-Ga, South Korea’s first credit union, was inaugurated in May 1960. It was inspired by the ideas and efforts of Maryknoll Sister Mary Gabriella Mulherin, who had been influenced by the Antigonish Movement in Canada. AUGUSTINE JOUNG RYUL KANG, who became the first president of Sung-Ga, and his associates were concerned with shifting the emphasis in postwar Korea from relief to self-help. Through seminars they determined that a cooperative offered the greatest promise of developing common bonds based on close human relationships.

From a start of 28 members in this first credit union, the movement in Korea has grown steadily. The Korean Credit Union League by 1980 had a membership of over 800,000 persons in 1,467 credit unions with savings in Korean currency equivalent to some US$200 million.

Five basic principles were taught to credit union leaders and members: 1) each person is important; 2) every man has the potential to become master of his own destiny; 3) education which calls forth action is the most important; 4) self-help and a cooperative spirit are basic to social development, and 5) working thus it is possible to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and to help people achieve both spiritual and material happiness.

When the Asian Confederation of Credit Unions was founded in April 1971—and affiliated a month later with the World Council—KANG was elected general manager. He became, as he had in Korea, the moving spirit, enlisting devoted organizers of credit unions. He worked in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Singapore and, until 1975, in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. His unerring judgment of people and his skills in patiently establishing amicable feelings among collaborators, in providing creative ideas and in inspiring members, proved as effective elsewhere in Asia as they had earlier in Korea.

KANG was born in 1923 and educated at Chinnampo, in what became North Korea, and fled south during the Korean War in 1951. His deep commitment to applying Christianity to daily life is at the core of his sustained efforts to make credit unions effective cooperatives for better living.

In electing AUGUSTINE JOUNG RYUL KANG to receive the 1981 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes his practical democracy and use of regional cooperation to foster economically and humanly sound credit unions.

 RESPONSE

Maraming salamat po! Ikinagagalak ko pong makilala kayo! (Thank you very much! I am so glad to be here with you!)

I feel that the languages are not at all sufficient to express my sincere gratitude to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for this award. Yet, I must be frank. You puzzled me when you chose me for this honor.

As soon as I was notified of the good news by the news agency, I was surrounded by mass media people. Among the questions they asked me was, “What was the reason, do you think, that you were given the award?” The question frightened me. I honestly answered them, “I do not know.” Some of their facial reactions embarrassed me, and I even felt sorry for the Board of Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for electing me.

While I was interviewed, and in the several articles that appeared in our Korean papers, the credit union movement was mentioned very frequently. Gradually I got used to the fact that this award was given because of my contribution to the credit union movement in Asia. This comforted me a lot.

In my work for the credit union movement I always remind myself of the following points: we must cooperate with each other, we must work together in peace. Governmental and nongovernmental
organizations, religious and nonreligious, clergy and laymen, old and young, yellow, black, brown and white, men and women, developed nation and developing nation—we are all born for this—we are destined to spend our lives together, in peace.

When there are two or more people working together, we can accomplish something only if we work together cooperatively, peacefully. The more people there are, the more we need to act in an orderly manner, in justice, in love. These attitudes are evoked naturally when people belong to and work together for the credit unions.

I received hundreds of congratulatory messages from my fellow Koreans as soon as the award was announced. And what made me most happy was that this event was truly promoting the credit union movement in so many ways.

Now I accept this award as a warning as well as an encouragement to continue to do my work better and better each day. Yes, I will do my best to make this meaningful award truly meaningful.

Once again, maraming salamat po. Mabuhay ang Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation! Paalam na po. (Thank you very much. Long live the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation! Goodbye.)

 BIOGRAPHY

A small boy’s understanding is limited by his experience. When young JOUNG RYUL KANG’s father, a strict and frugal man, gave him what appeared to be an enormous amount of spending money for a school trip to Seoul, the boy decided that pleasing his father was more important than pleasing himself. He carefully limited his excursion expenses while in the city so that when he resumed to his village there was a sizeable amount of money left to return to his parents. Instead of praising him, however, KANG’s father was annoyed. “I gave you money to spend and you did not do it,” he said; “a man must know when to spend as well as when to save!” It was KANG’s first lesson in the difference between thrift and miserliness, and one that he only fully understood much later in his life when circumstances led him to an interest in credit unions.
JOUNG RYUL KANG was born October 8, 1923 in the tiny village of Woljiri, located in what now is North Korea. Situated on the western side of the Korean peninsula, Woljiri is in the province of PyongannamDo, the center of Christianity in Korea. In the latter part of the 19th century Pyongyang, the provincial capital and largest city, housed over 100 Christian churches and was said to have more Protestant missionaries than any other Asian city. KANG was reared in the strong Protestant atmosphere of his village. He was the last child and only son of Hyun Bum Kang and Chang Ok Kim, reasonably well-to-do farmers. Instead of spoiling his son, as many families did, KANG’s father deliberately maintained strict discipline over the boy, insisting on hard work, obedience, honesty and thriftiness. KANG remembers that the first time he was allowed to spend money on candy was when he was in his sixth year of school, and that other villagers marveled at the tight rein that the father kept on him. In contrast, KANG’s mother blindly adored her boy.

Although his father and two of his three sisters had been baptized by the Presbyterians, KANG did not affiliate with the denomination because, as a schoolboy, he was confused and frightened by the competition existing between rival Protestant churches. He attended local elementary and secondary schools and Chinnampo Commercial School in the nearby town of Chinnampo, from which he graduated in 1941. His formal education was completed in 1943 when he finished correspondence courses in economics and commerce and English literature from prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo. With textbooks provided for study at home due to the war KANG was able at the same time to teach at Samsung Missionary School in Chinnampo, a Methodist elementary school where the father of a friend was headmaster.

On April 15, 1944, at the age of 20, KANG married Song Yup Lee (Monica), daughter of a scholar, Young Dae Lee, who before his death in 1968 taught oriental history at Seoul Technical College. Six weeks later KANG fell ill with pleurisy and, as he says, his “life of rest-cure began.” In the winter KANG moved in with his parents in Woljiri while his wife lived with her family in Chinnampo.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)