HIGHLIGHTS

  • She took up teaching to support herself and her young daughter. One day a desperate welfare official left seven abandoned infants in her charge.
  • 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 has helped aid-giving organizations find the neediest groups and individuals and led in founding Koje-do Christian Hospital.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “her nurturing hundreds of abandoned and handicapped children to adulthood in an atmosphere of beauty and love.”

 CITATION

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.

 RESPONSE

It was November 1952. In the midst of confusion due to the North-South conflict on the Korean peninsula, I, as a twenty-six-year-old woman, after fervent prayer, made a promise to God. Since then I have pulled a heavy cart up the hill, utilizing all my strength. There were times when my work load overwhelmed me and times when people insulted me. Nevertheless, the wide eyes of the little children sustained my strength and their undivided pure love gave me new hope and courage.

Although at times I felt as if I were standing in the wilderness alone, I became a fearless soldier to protect their rights and a comforting mother to dry their tears and ease their heartaches. My endless prayers became hymns of praise as I kept pulling the cart.

These thoughts came to my mind when I heard the amazing news that I was chosen for the Magsaysay Award. However, a voice from within warned that the prize is not for me alone. It is for the many whose names are not known and who receive no glory, those who through thirty-eight long, hard years have supported, helped, and enabled me to pull the cart. I accept this totally unexpected honor as a representative of the many who have worked for the success of our endeavors; I also accept it with a deep and serious sense of responsibility.

I humbly offer this aging body and soul to continue to work for the betterment of mentally and physically disabled children. I pray that God uses the rest of my life to help me guide these children to live as dignified human beings and to utilize their God-given talents for greater happiness and hope. I see this award as a manifestation of God’s grace and of his renewed promise for the disabled children at Ai Kwang Won.

We realize and truly appreciate how fortunate we are through observing those who are less fortunate, and we learn the precious lesson that their suffering and pain might have been ours. I appeal to all of you. It is not only a nation or government’s responsibility but also the responsibility of churches, social groups, and individuals to reach out and provide assistance to the less fortunate. I consider myself an early-morning church bell, reminding the world that some of our neighbors need us and that we must share whatever we, as “normal people,” have – our love, health, material gifts, time, and talents.

During my long years in this work, I have come to realize that the miracle in the Bible, of how Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fishes, was not only a miracle of two thousand years ago. I have personally witnessed and experienced this kind of miracle over and over all around me.

As I use this prize money to reconstruct the old school classroom buildings for my two hundred disabled children, I call on all of you to pray that the same miracle may happen again.

 BIOGRAPHY

KIM IM SOON was born in the town of Sangjoo in Kyung Nam Province, South-Central Korea, on 20 March 1925 to upper-class parents. Kim Dong Kyu and his wife Lee Gui Duk (in Korea married women keep their family names), having five children already, entrusted their new daughter to a childless relative, Yoon Sook Ha, the widow of Kim’s brother. Yoon raised IM SOON and her second-elder brother as her own daughter and son. Indeed, IM SOON was unaware of the identity of her real parents?whom she had been taught to call Aunt and Uncle?until she was fourteen years old. Yoon and her adopted children occupied a house in the larger family compound, however, so the children grew up in constant proximity to their real parents and siblings.

The whole family was passionately patriotic. In 1910 Japan had annexed Korea, bringing to an end the Yi dynasty that had reigned for over five hundred years, a dynasty that generations of the Kim family had served?in the Confucian tradition?as scholar-officials. IM SOON’s father was such a man and at the time of the Japanese occupation he fled with his family to Manchuria where he joined other patriots eager to overthrow the intruders. His younger brother, the husband of Yoon, attended a school for Korean freedom fighters there and died while still in exile.

Most of Kim Dong Kyu’s children were, in fact, born in Manchuria, but he had returned to Sangjoo County and entered trade by the time of IM SOON’s arrival. Although rarely spoken of, the feelings of pride in Korea and loathing for the Japanese powerfully influenced the family. IM SOON believed that her father had died a martyr in Manchuria, and Yoon occasionally spoke of her own longings to be a Korean revolutionary. The child therefore made Korea’s cause her own. In grade four, having heard how a member of the anti-Japanese underground was caught while buying meat at the marketplace, she began disciplining herself for tasks ahead by becoming a vegetarian! (The habit became ingrained and she continues to eat a primarily vegetarian diet today.)

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