November 1, 2015
International Adoption Awareness Month
As we commemorate International Adoption month, each day this month, I intend to blog my comparison of life as an orphan and life after adoption. Having experienced both, I wish to share insight on the blessing of being adopted but also life as an orphan. I hope that this will give you insight into what might have happened to so many adoptees had it not been for International Adoption. Blessings to you all.
November 1, 2015
Reflection Day 1
An Unwanted Child – Whether you are adopted or an orphan, we all started with an abandonment or birth parent(s)’ relinquishment.
November 2, 2015
Reflection Day 2
Chosen vs Rejected – A child who is lucky to be chosen by a prospective adoptive family will soon be given the identity of belonging to a family. The fate of his or her life will change forever for the better.
On the contrary, those who are not chosen remain in an orphanage or institution with the life-long title of “orphan!” It will be their home, the only home they will know until the age of 18. Their fate will be facing feelings of insignificance, rejection and loneliness.
November 3, 2015
Reflection Day 3
Homebound vs Homeless – A chosen child, his or her very existence has become an important matter to others, whatever the child’s race. A home and family awaits eagerly for his or her arrival. Yes, the internationally adopted child leaves his or her homeland, but it is inconsequential at this time. The baby’s most critical needs are not a particular culture, but a mom and dad who will provide physical and emotional affection, love, and stability.
No one awaits the orphans. Life in an orphanage means being provided the most basic of necessities, but within the cold framework of an institution. It cannot provide for emotional needs, and most importantly, it cannot provide the loving, nurturing care so crucial to a child’s sense of self. There is no heritage for these orphans. Through the lens of Korean community, orphans are socially tolerated dogs, always viewed with suspicion. Even in their adulthood, the opportunity for adult orphans to embrace their own culture is curtailed by societal bias. Orphans not only suffer from physical and emotional malnourishment, but cultural isolation as well.
*** I was unable to appreciate and come to love Korea and its culture until after I came to America and returned as a foreigner. I reflected on how much I knew of my own heritage when I lived in Korea as an orphan, and I honestly have no recollection of anything other than the embarrassment and shame of being an orphan. I now appreciate my homeland while understanding it flaws.
November 4, 2015
Reflection Day 4
Forever Family vs Orphanage Life – The fear of the unknown and language barriers are overcome as a child blends into his or her new family, and is introduced to love, affection, celebration, and learns to trust. The burden of being an orphan has lifted. He or she now belongs and becomes a family member. He or she will be protected, defended, cheered, cherished, and supported by family and friends. The child become valued. Every child’s dreams and hope..to be loved and be cared for by their mom and dad is realized.
Orphans will never understand and comprehend the depth of experience of what it means to have a family, or a mom and dad. In their orphanage home, they are unable to feel special or valued. Most “homes” are secured with a iron fence or a brick wall. Living by a regimented schedule, in lock step with the other orphans, is all they know. The absent of physical affection becomes evidence when visitors arrive. The children cling to anyone who will hold them. Individuality is absent; every item is shared with fellow children. Their inquisitive natures, creativity, and talents are not challenged, encouraged or even noticed. Rather, their hope is replaced with a desire to please and seek the favoritism of their caretakers. This is life in an orphanage.
***The only family I understood were my fellow orphans. The only home I had was an orphanage guarded by brick walls. Institutionalization means living by a structured schedule with little deviation. My early memories of “home” are a giant room, limited meals, chores, no entertainment or special treats. I do not remember ever getting a hug or being praised as a child, but I do remember the constant mental and physical punishment. Who will protect the orphans?
November 5, 2015
Reflection Day 5
Parents vs Caretakers – Parents devote love and concern for their child. The child’s future is auspicious. The child continues to engage in laughter, adventure, sports, accomplishments, shopping, family gatherings, holidays gatherings, friends, education, traveling opportunities, and the list goes on. Parents provide the security the child needs, which includes simple things like holding hands or giving hugs. This love is the fuel so necessary for the child’s sense of self worth and healthy development.
For orphans, the path is uncertain. Privilege does not exist. Opportunity to expand their world view is limited. Holidays are spent in an orphanage with fellow orphans. The caretakers who care for orphans are not the “parents”. Caretakers are paid facilitators who in many cases are over-burdened with a mountain responsibility. Therefore, the absence of individual care are the norm in this group. The sense of love, comfort, security, and confidence that a mother and family can provide, these rights are stripped away as soon they were placed into orphanages.
***My caretakers’ focus were on overseeing that we did not get into trouble and that we followed their rules. They had no interest in each of our souls, feelings, needs, hunger, or dreams. Instead, we were in constant fear. For instance, when they were having a bad day for any given reason, they would take their rage out on us. We would be punished physically, as well as being deprived of our meals. We orphans were insignificant and invaluable to them. But these people were all we had as our “parents” forever!
November 6, 2015
Reflection Day 6
More and more adult adoptees are speaking out about suffering and abuse within adoptive homes. This is such a hurtful discovery for me and for many others because of our support for adoption. Especially this month, I ask for your special thoughts and prayers for those adoptees whether it’s domestic or international, who have become victims of such tragic and are suffering so much. Pray for their strength, healing, courage, forgiveness, and peace. Thank you for your support.
Lately, statements addressing feelings of grief, fear, hatred, frustration, hostility, resentment, and hopelessness have been exchanged by my fellow adoptees among one of my Facebook groups. Statements of encouragement, support, concern, along with suggestions are also exchanged. I could never speak or feel the immense pain of someone who has suffered horribly at the hands of his or her adoptive parent(s) or others. I find it difficult to comprehend the thought of anyone being subjected to such physical, mental and sexual abuse committed toward them by their very own adoptive father and/or mother. Truly, the purpose of adoption is to provide helpless and fragile orphans the safe and nurturing home they so deserve. Clearly, those promises were shattered. I am truly saddened and so sorry for this hurt and suffering. I grieve with you but also pray for justice and peace as you continue to struggle and search for answers. I pray for healing. I pray for solidarity, support, encouragement, love and understanding. I pray for peace in your heart. I pray for hope. I pray for a change of heart and a change of the system for the better. I pray for amicable resolutions.
My suffering was different than most adoptees, in that mine happened in Korea. In the orphanage, in Korean society, and even within what welfare system existed. The tragic part of all this is that adult orphans in Korea live their whole lives suffering in silence because orphans have no privilege to speak out against injustice. They are ostracized from society. They lack the ability to review their birth files. Even the act of looking for one’s parents would itself be humiliating to them because they would be announcing their status as an orphan. Silence is their only choice. That said, even if they were to find their birth parents, they would likely be rejected.
As an orphan, I processed my grief, sorrow, anger, injustice, along with mental, physical and sexual abuse… by remaining silent. I did not have the courage of speaking about injustices committed against me. I swallowed these feeling and kept them inside me. But, despite the nightmare of orphanage life and being shunned by the society, my faith sustained me from falling into a deep depression or losing my mental stability. It was not until I came to America that I had the courage to share my abusive past. So many crimes were committed against me and my fellow orphans. Sadly, we will never find justice, and those remaining in Korea continue to live with the stigma and burden of being an orphan.
It is from this perspective that I read of tragic cases of abuse within adoptive families, and comments about how children would have been better off had they been left in Korea. Having lived and suffered that alternative reality, and as cold and cavalier as it may sound, I would have chosen an abusive family in a country where I could try to move forward once I was an adult over an abusive institution where I was dumped into a society which rejected my existence. This is the truth in Korea even today – orphans have no value, no place, no voice.
I do not expect you to agree with me, but I wanted to acknowledge to you all that I have learned a great deal of the suffering among you and I am truly sorry for it. But also, I want you to understand that those children who remain in orphanages need a home, a mom and dad, an opportunity, and hope, which most of us are blessed to have. It is a sad reality that not every adoptive home will be the loving and supportive place it should be, but these children should at least be given a chance for a bright future, the type of future which does not exist for them in Korea.
November 7, 2015
Reflection Day 7
“I was chosen, I was wanted, I was cherished, I grew in their hearts, I was the missing piece, I was loved, I was adopted”. ~ Unknown Source
“I was rejected. I was denied. I was a burden. I grew in no one’s heart. I was lonely. I was not adopted”. ~ The World of Orphans
***These words live in me because I experienced this entire spectrum, as an orphan and as an adoptee. I am thankful for adoption.
November 8, 2015
Reflection Day 8
A Chance for Success vs A Life of Insecurity – When a child is provided with love, affection, encouragement, challenges, praise, rewards, social activities, a safe environment which are critical for a child’s development, he or she will develop a sense of stability, confidence, self-worth, contentment, satisfaction and a chance of success in their life.
When basic needs are replaced by abuse and neglect, or only the bare minimum is provided, a child’s chance of suffering are greater, of gaining self-confidence is slim, and consequently, the child develops low self-esteem and deprivation. In an orphanage, opportunities for orphans to develop self-confidence is hampered by insufficient love and support.
***In the world in which I grew up, instead of love and affection, we feared our caretakers. Instead of praise and hugs, we faced beatings. Our words had no value and we weren’t allowed to socialize outside of the complex. Our life was trying to survive each day without being picked on or being abused. As a result, many of my orphan sisters suffer significant sense of insecurity, and I struggle with this as well.
November 9, 2015
Reflection Day 9
The Friends, we all have close friends. Good friends know you. They share many things. They cherish you. They share life stories, travels and experiences. With friends, you are able to be yourself without the fear of judgement. Making friends is a natural and a part of life, yet we often take it for granted.
Last month, I met with my orphan sisters in Korea. They are in their early 50’s, and I observed their expressions as they each arrived at the event. Many had not seen each other for 10 years or longer. The exuberance in their faces as they met up with their orphan sisters was worth the effort to attend. The minute they were reunited, a huge burden lifted as each understood she did not have to disguise her past. They were all orphans and still living with that stigma. Instead of all the hateful words that they could have expressed for their past and present, they celebrated the evening with laughter, tears, caring, and the joy of seeing those with whom they shared so much in common – having experienced similar challenges.
In an attempt to understand their emotions, needs, and experiences, we conducted a survey. One of the questions was how many friends they each had. The general consensus was that they had no friends outside of their family, and if they had friends, they disguised their identity as an orphan. The fear of humiliation and rejection prevented them from attempting to make friends. It was understandable to me why they choose to remain silent.
I have been very blessed to have so many friends here who understand my past, encourage me, and let me create so many wonderful memories. I have no barrier in choosing who my friends are. This is possible because I no longer live in Korea as an orphan. This barrier to friendships is one more difficulty adult orphans endure. By itself, this challenge may not seem particularly significant, however it is yet another reminder of the inability of orphans in Korea to integrate into society.
November 10, 2015
Reflection Day 10
No Justice – As international adoption month continues, many adoptees have shared their unique experiences both positive and wonderful experiences, as well as horrific and abusive experiences. I have been educated to a new dimension of international adoption. I hope that adoptees who have the privilege to speak out about their experiences appreciate the opportunity to share their stories.
I speak for those who are denied the privilege to speak out, for those who must remain silent within their own society. My fellow orphans have no voice. I want to be their voice. I am going to share a number of personal stories of mine and my orphan sisters. To adoptees who believe that they would have fared better had they never been adopted, please understand that I, along with my fellow orphans, are nothing but envious toward you.
Our caretakers were a couple, a husband and wife. He was a pastor. I remember vividly to this day, being thrown into a dark shack after being beaten over 100 times. Covered in bruises, no food, no heat, and no light, in freezing temperature, I was despondent. This was a common punishment used against my orphan sisters as well. Other times, I’d witnessed my sisters’ being struck in the head with sticks, blood flowing from their wounds. One beating I suffered resulted in a sprained wrist. After two weeks, my caretakers finally took me to a doctor, but I had to tell the doctor that I had fallen. I ended up with a cast.
There was an instance when I was kicked out of the “home” and told to go get lost in the mountains. I was perhaps nine years old. I followed their orders and walked away because begging for mercy would result in more of a beating. I was scared that wild animals would come and hurt me or kill me. I had no place to run. I was terrified. I remember crying until I could cry no more.
In the winter, in the freezing temperature, we walked to school every day. Often, we had no socks. It was so cold that many of my sisters including me ended up developing frostbite on our toes. I remember being treated at the hospital. Our home was never warm in the winter. On one instance, on the way to “home,” I spotted a chewed piece of gum, and I picked it up and brushed off the dirt as much as I could so I could try it. We never had those sorts of things at the orphanage. Food and snacks were scarce.
Our caretakers made us constantly late to school, and we were ordered to come straight home after school. If we were late, we were punished. Our caretakers had complete control over our lives. There was so much more despicable abuse that occurred which I am to this day horrified to reveal, but you can imagine the vulnerability of orphans. Our caretakers were never held accountable for their crimes. He still is a pastor. This was my orphanhood. This is why I firmly believe that adoption and not institutions is the only alternative for orphans. Even though today’s orphanages prohibit beatings, who guarantees the safety of these children? My heart and emotions ache as I share my past life in the orphanage, but I want my fellow adoptees and others to realize what life in a Korean orphanage may have held for them. I am glad that adoptees have a voice with which to seek healing and justice. Korean orphans have none.
November 11, 2015
Reflection Day 11
Gratitude – In honor of Veterans Day, I want to express my gratitude for the men and women who have served and who are serving in our country’s military. Without their sacrifice and dedication we would not enjoy the freedom we cherish, and neither would so many others around the world. South Koreans, for instance, only have to look across the DMZ to see what fate could have awaited them.
When I was living with Molly Holt as a young adult, volunteering in the office at Holt Il San, every year, during Thanksgiving and Christmas, the mentally and physically challenged orphans anticipated a special event. U.S. Army soldiers not only came to visit them, but they brought a load of food, snacks, and toys. They were all in uniform, which impressed the residents. They held hands with children and made the orphans smile. Santa Claus visited too. They warmed the hearts of these orphans. These soldiers made them feel special and helped them truly celebrate the holiday. They performed this selfless act as ambassadors of our great country. I will always remember them with respect and appreciation.
November 12, 2015
Reflection Day 12
Identity – The new Korean adoption law of 2012 has had a dramatic impact on international adoption. This law requires all unwed mothers to register the birth of their babies. This was lobbied for by an organization called Truth & Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK). This law is based on the premise that children have the right to an identity, according to the president of TRACK. Having suffered through her own identity issues, and having faced discrimination within her adoptive family and community, she sought out her identity in Korea. She argues that children are compromised if adopted anonymously. This change in law has had an adverse impact on adoptable children. As a result, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children who are “dumped” into orphanages.
Here is my view. First, this law ignores the complexity of Korean culture. The culture does not welcome unwed mothers or orphans. Orphans live an anonymous life disconnected from mainstream society. Second, birth mothers are reluctant to register their babies because it will become part of their permanent records and subject them to prejudicial treatment particularly when it comes to marriage opportunities. Consequently, they face the difficult choice to abandon their babies. Third, because these abandoned children are not registered, they become unadoptable both domestically and internationally.
As a child raised in an orphanage, my biological identity vanished. The orphanage taught me that I was of no value to society. I was useless, stupid, ugly and worthless. That was the identity that Korean culture gave to me as an orphan. My identity was not Korean, my identity was being an orphan. Therefore, if one wishes to provide a child with his or her identity, an orphanage is counterproductive to that goal. The best place for a child to find an identity is within a family.
November 13, 2015
Reflection Day 13
Purpose – I am not a writer, nor social worker, nor was I adopted at a young age. I was a victim of the Korean orphanage in which I grew up. I struggle with English, and I lack sophisticated language skills. My adoption story, which is unique and unconventional, does not provide me with experience in growing up within an adoptive family. But I feel the need to share my experience as it relates to the suffering shared by orphans living in Korea. I am just an ordinary person who has a passion for love for God, my family, friends, fellow adoptees, and my fellow orphan sisters. Each of my postings are a reflection of my life as an orphan and my transition beyond that label. My sole purpose is to acknowledge the importance of adoption, and to shine a light on the eternally forgotten ones, the insignificant ones, the disregarded ones, the unspoken ones… the adult orphans in Korea. Thank you for your continued support in following my journey. There is more to come.
November 14, 2015
Reflection Day 14
Stolen – Until I moved to America, trust was not a part of my vocabulary. In an institution, the only people orphans can hope to trust are their caretakers or directors. Orphans’ lives are dictated by a rigid schedule. Love and affection are largely absent from their world. Because of this, orphans lack the opportunity to build the fundamental trust which typically develops between a parent and a child. As a result, orphans grow up distrustful of others.
During the long winter break of my 8th grade year, I was told to work at a local factory. It was a glass factory. I remember working everyday for eight hours or longer. When I got paid, I was ordered to take my pay to my caretakers. They promised me that the money was going into a bank account in my name. I don’t know how much I actually earned because I was too afraid to open the envelope. I worked full time for two months. On one occasion, a man at work became upset by something I said. I was just trying to be friendly. He spit right in my face. He felt he could do this because, after all, I was only an orphan. I didn’t deserve the level of respect and dignity of a normal person. I was shocked. I felt completely humiliated and violated, but I had no right to confront him. From that time on, I did everything in my power to keep my status as an orphan a secret. I promised myself that I would live in silence. As you have probably already assumed, I never saw my money. My “caretakers” robbed me. They lacked integrity, and violated my trust. They not only stole my hard earned money, they stole my trust. Sadly, this would be the first of my experiences of people taking advantage of my status as an orphan and robbing me of my labor.
November 15, 2015
Reflection Day 15
Voices – Many of us have been recognizing international adoption month by sharing stories and tributes. While these tend to come from those connected to international adoption, they come from all walks of life. Adoptees, adoptive parents, friends, representatives of various organizations, and others have all shared their thoughts. Each provides a unique view. These experiences have included descriptions of growing up within loving families, abusive homes, various other challenges, and feelings ranging from gratitude to resentment. We honor and thank adoptive parents who have raised adoptive children with love and devotion. We share the frustration toward adoptive parents who have failed to nurture their children. Without access to social media, many of us lack the opportunity to understand this issue.
Of course, this turns my mind to adult orphans in Korean. I tried to find publications discussing them, but found none. If they are out there, they are not readily accessible. Perhaps this is because orphans in Korea are a taboo. No one seems to know or care about their needs, the hardships they face, and the dreams they hold in their hearts. It is as though they do not even exist. Korean society does not recognize them. If anything at all, they are seen as a burden to society. Shouldn’t they be able to publicly voice their opinions? Shouldn’t we validate their views? Tragically, this is not the world in which they live. Retaliation, fear, lack of self confidence, and lack of an audience – these are among the many reasons we do not hear their stories. While many connected to international adoption have weighed in on this issue, the only thing we hear from the perspective of adult orphans in Korea is silence.
November 16, 2015
Reflection Day 16
Sold – Children are more likely to strive to their fullest potential and enjoy being kids in a family setting. The presence of love, encouragement, communication, and reciprocal respect fuels them. Families share laughter, celebrate achievement, and support children’s dreams. Parents allow children to enjoy their youth, and the opportunity to grow through friends, school, sports, music and much more. I have watched my daughters enjoy this privilege, and thrive forward toward their goals.
My orphanage was small and privately operated. It began as a large orphanage, but it adopted out most of the babies. Those of us who remained were the “leftovers.” There were 26 of us, all girls, and we grew up together. I did not experience a childhood in the sense that the typical American might mean by that term. We were never children. We were orphans with little to no value.
In their youthful age, as soon as my fellow sisters finished middle school, many were sent out to work for a family. So, instead of being teenagers, they became live-in maids. Slavery would be a more accurate description, since they did not have the right to keep the little money they earned. If my sisters did not take their earnings directly to the orphanage, they were subject to beating. The cruelty of our “caretakers” was beyond words. And the families did not care about the fact that these were just children, they wanted cheap labor. This was the curse of being a Korean orphan. People do not regard innocent orphans’ feelings. They see them as an opportunity to take advantage of them. I ended up placed in a family, too. And, as it should come as no surprise, my experience as a “maid” was yet another painful chapter in my life…….
November 17, 2015
Reflection Day 17
Adrift – Children seek their parents’ protection when they are threatened. They know that their mom and dad will rescue them. Parents ache when they see their child in pain. Parents help heal their child’s wounds. They look out for their child’s well-being. Children from families always have a place to go where they can feel safe… to their parents. This is not true for orphans. They have no such protection. They have no safe haven. They are left adrift. I too was sent to a family. I was told that if I wanted to finish high school, I needed to move in with a family and become their maid. In exchange, the family would pay for my tuition, transportation and room and board. The family consisted of a couple with three boys ranging from high school aged to elementary. I was just barely 16. The oldest son had his own room while I was told to sleep in the room with the two younger boys. My circumstance quickly became hellish. I was immediately, and continually, subjected to sexual abuse by the older sons. I could not sleep. I lay in fear each night. I had nowhere to escape. The only time I felt safe was when I was away from this home attending school at night. I did not dare report their behavior to their mother. I knew what side she would rush to take, and it certainly would not be mine. If she lashed out, it would be at me.
As horrible as this situation was, I was actually relieved to be away from the constant physical and mental abuse of my caretakers. And, as long as I remained silent, I would not be subjected to further humiliation or physical abuse by this family. However, I was literally out on my own. I had no one to talk to about my hopeless situation.
My orphanage did not care about my safety. I was a frightened, defenseless, insignificant object. I felt my life had absolutely no value. This was the first chapter of my journey after “aging out of the orphanage,” and I was not yet 18.
November 18, 2015
Reflection Day 18
The Missing Piece – Love is essential to our lives. Love not only creates a feeling of acceptance and provides emotional support, it validates the importance of our existence. We crave it, we wish it, we work for it. Love gives us a sense of self confidence, a sense of belonging, and security. It comforts us. We also reciprocate this love to our family, friends, and others. Love eases the pain of victims of tragic circumstance and helps them overcome obstacles, including fear. The receipt of love can alter a person’s world. Children thrive with the presence of consistent love. Love influences how we view ourselves and the world. An adoptive family’s willingness to share their love with an orphan provides the child with infinite opportunities. This simple desire to love an orphan as their own unconditionally is a gift to both the child and the family.
In an orphanage, love is largely absent. An Orphan’s opportunity revel in a sense of love is a rare occurrence. Occasionally, visitors will spare their love, but the moment swiftly passes. Visitors depart, and the feeling vanishes. Orphans witness their “friends” calling out to their mom and dad, and see the parents react with affection. This simple observation is a reminder to the orphan that they are not the equals of other children. Orphans are denied the comfort of calling out for their mother or father. Orphans cannot help but feel less wanted, insignificant, and inferior. The absence of a mother and father is evidence in their behavior. They isolate themselves at school. They are subjected to bullying and discrimination. And the final insult is when they age out of the orphanage and are exiled into a world that rejects them.
My ability to stay strong and survive after being kicked out of the orphanage did not come easily. I was the quintessential product of an orphanage. I could have become an anonymous victim, a statistic. But, there was a love that I held. A love that I could not see but that I felt. I was not alone…
November 19, 2015
Reflection Day 19
Memories – We build memories of all kinds. Memories of growing up, memories of spending time with family, memories of traveling, memories of school and friends. We want to record all these wonderful events so we can go back and reminisce. We prefer to reflect on positive experiences. We like memories that bring us good thoughts.
The memories orphans build are far different from children who grow up in normal families. Their memories are of an institution, being subjected to bullying, enduring discrimination, hunger, abuse in every form, but worst of all, memories of isolation. And not only do they build these memories, they must keep them hidden inside. They are not the type of memories one shares. Their memories will not be heard.
Last year, I stumbled upon a diary I kept while I was a teenager. I recently read it to better share my thoughts this month on the importance of adoption. It brought back a flood of memories I had somehow erased. It is filled with anguish, despair, loneliness, anger, frustration, hopelessness, pain and unrealistic hopes. It describes injustice and numerous examples of the unfair and horrifying punishment at the hands of my caretakers. I had to remind myself that this was my past, and that I am now safe and not in harm’s way. Even writing this, I struggle to maintain my composure. I felt the weight of the immense grief of my past. It reopened psychological wounds. It reminded me of my origins. I wrote it while I lived with a second family. When I had no other place to go, and no hope of escaping what was almost certainly a life sentence as an orphan. At the time, these pages were the only release I had to pour out my feelings. The diary also touched on a love and hope that sustained and helped me become the person I am today. A hope that someone cared about me from afar in a foreign country…
November 20, 2015
Reflection Day 20
Connections – We are connected to the lives of others in various ways – as a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, teacher, counselor and many other. We belong to each other. We appreciate the feeling these relationships provide. This feeling promotes our emotional well-being. It creates hope and a feeling of love and inclusion. Most adoptees benefit from this blessing. They become significant to others.
Orphans, on the contrary, have far fewer connections if none. Other than perhaps orphanhood friends, they lack the deep long-term relationships that others take for granted. There is no adult to whom they can rely upon and seek out for understanding, emotional and financial support. And as for any orphanhood friends with whom they remain in contact, these vulnerable, lost souls are mired in the same state of fear and ostracization. Orphan-to-orphan relationships provide limited emotional support. This lack of connection reinforces a feeling of insignificance.
Thankfully, after six miserable months at the first house in which I lived as a maid, I was able to escape that abuse. However, after moving to another house, I quickly realized that I had only changed the nature of my misery. I did not have a room to myself, and the woman I worked for constantly belittled me. But I had nowhere to flee, and no one would have cared if I vanished from the world. Out of desperation, and in an effort to find someone who would just listen to my agony, I wrote a letter. My orphanage was supported by various American sponsors. Each of us orphans had sponsors. (I’ll set aside for now how the orphanage handled sponsor donations, although you can probably guess.) I happened to have had my sponsor’s address. They were Americans, and I didn’t feel threatened or intimidated by them. They seemed like my last hope. My English was not very good at the time, and they did not speak or write Korean, but I wrote them a letter in Korean. I poured out my sorrowful stories. To my great surprise, they did not fail me. In fact, they were God’s hands on earth. True, I could not see them, but our exchange of letters sustained me. They prayed for me, expressed their love for me, and helped me financially. They became my constant source of inspiration. They helped ease my pain. They gave me hope. I was not completely alone and forgotten by the world anymore. The anticipation of receiving one of their letters fueled me. Nothing gave me greater joy. I considered them my American “mom and dad.” They made me feel special. One day, I wrote in my diary, “I know that God promised me to meet you someday and I believe He will keep His promise.” And He did. There is no way I can ever repay or truly thank my sponsor parents for loving me as a person, and not as an undeserving orphan. Without the gift of their hearts, especially when I needed someone so desperately, I believe I may have completely lost the will to struggle forward.
November 21, 2015
Reflection Day 21
Birth Mothers – I want to share my thoughts on an issue which has stirred up anguish and anger among some adoptees. This regards incidents in which the documents of abandoned Korean children were “falsified” to make them eligible for adoption. (Let me be clear that I do not condone this falsification.) It is an important concern worthy of discussion. First, to my knowledge, while this happened in the past, safeguards prevent it from happening now. Second, we need to understand Korean culture, and the difficult circumstance in which unwed mothers find themselves. Third, we need to be aware of why these mothers abandon or relinquish these babies, in many cases without leaving any trace of identity. Last, the vast majority of unwed mothers are teenagers who are not psychologically ready to parent a child. These teens and young adults fear public shame and condemnation. Many of these mothers are the victims of rape. Korean culture is far different from that in the United States. Although the support system for unwed mothers has been strengthened, the potential hardship and stigmatization against single mothers continues.
Under these pressures, many unwed mothers make the only choice they believed is available to them – to abandon their babies. Some mothers do not leave any trace of the baby’s identity, such as name, date of birth, or anything which might connect the child back to the mother. This would risk her secret coming to light, and place in her jeopardy. It would negatively affect her opportunity for education, employment, and marriage. These young women are scared, ashamed, confused, and often very alone. I can’t imagine they are even thinking about whether to leave a message explaining how they would like their child raised – in an orphanage or adopted to a foreign country. They simply cannot comprehend the thought of surviving the level of discrimination they would face in Korean society. This does not mean that they escape carrying a burden of guilt, shame and regret for the remainder of their lives.
As one would expect, many of these babies have been put up for adoption, largely in America, but also in Europe. And in some cases, as mentioned previously, “falsified” documents were used to enable a child to be adopted. While it is easy to condemn this action, it was done to give the child a chance to grow up in a family or to allow the child to obtain adequate medical care. As someone who grew up in an orphanage, I cannot judge those who participated in this fraud. I do not believe a birth mother would desire her child to grow up in an orphanage rather than a family. Even knowing that a small percentage of adopted children end up in abusive families (just as children are born into abusive families), I believe a birth mother would choose adoption over their child facing the traumatic life of an orphan. As a child, I certainly would have jumped at that chance.
After a number of adoptees critical of their adoptions complained about the fraudulent document issue, the Korean government tightened regulations to guard against this practice. Now, unless a child’s eligibility for adoption is established under stricter scrutiny, that child is doomed to grow up in an orphanage. Do I feel sorrow for the adopted child who learns as an adult that his or her birth mother, father or other relative now claims that they would have kept and raised them but for the deceit? Yes, of course. It is a tragedy for the parent and the child. (But I also grew up in Korea, and in my opinion based on my understanding of the culture and the minds of Koreans, such a claim made years after the fact in response to being confronted by someone abandoned as a child may be based more on face-saving than the truth.) But now many children are paying the price of ensuring that such a thing does not happen to a small percentage. There is no easy answer. But let me make one thing clear, the answer is not dooming these children to institutions. I cannot imagine that such a cruel fate would be the desire of any birth mother or father.
November 22, 2015
Reflection Day 22
Home – A home is a place where everyone takes refuge. It provides a place for family, friends, and relatives to come together for laughter, comfort, and holidays. Children escape to their rooms to relax, play, and sleep. When children leave for college, employment or marriage, they know that they have a home to which they can always return. Simply knowing that place of security exists provides them confidence and a sense of belonging.
Orphans have no home. Yes, they have the institution to call home while growing up, but once they age out, what little sense of place and security it provides vanishes. Children do not typically have the privilege of enjoying their own room, or a room to share with a sibling. They live in a barracks-like room with rows of “dressers” and a large floor space. They share everything. They do not own toys. And when they age out, they are stripped of even this. Many become homeless in a society that rejects their value. Many end up working in factories which provide room and board. It is also common for them to work as live-in maids. They might even fall into prostitution. Finding a marriage partner is difficult, but once married, there is obviously no family support.
In my orphanage, we had nothing of our own. Our “home” was essentially a large room. We didn’t have western beds. We slept on thin pads which we spread on the floor each night, and stacked up in the morning. When I left the orphanage, I had no interest in ever returning. In the first two homes I worked as a live-in maid, they did not provide me with my own room. In the third home I worked as a maid, I was finally given my own room, but it was the size of a closet. There was just enough space for me to lay down my blanket. This was my room for almost a year. But, it was a place where I could be at peace. It was a place where I felt secure. It was a place for me to freely shed my tears. It was my place of comfort. It was a place to remind myself of God’s love. As someone who grew up never having a place of her own, I felt very privileged to have this very first “home.” I lived there almost a year while I finished high school.
November 23, 2015
Reflection Day 23
No Trusted Advisor – Knowing someone you can trust and count on for advice can have a significant influence on your life. We generally put parents and other trusted relatives into this category. These are people who will put our welfare first and foremost. They will not be considering how they might take advantage of us. Our best welfare is their concern.
When orphans age out of their institution and are thrown into society, they are at the mercy of those who are not concerned about their well-being. Their status as an orphan hampers their ability to find a job, and they are vulnerable to those seeking to take unfair advantage of them. No one is there to advise them and help protect their interests. They lack the support system inherent within the traditional family structure. Instead, they are left to navigate their path alone.
As soon as I finished high school, I left my maid job to seek normal employment. Of course, when I worked for the families, I did not get paid anything beyond school expenses. Without any funds, my options were limited. I found myself at the mercy of someone to find me a job. My new employer and this person agreed on my salary without ever talking to me. The job also included room and board. My pay was to be deposited directly into my bank account. It was a fraction of what I deserved, but I was an orphan, and in no position to bargain, especially when I had to live with my employer. I labored 12-14 hours a day, six days a week. I would deliver office supplies to various locations by foot. This was not the worst of it. I immediately realized that my position entailed the humiliation of confronting the owner’s continual sexual assaults. I immediately dreaded my situation. I dreaded going to work with him every morning. And I also hated the fact that even after struggling to complete high school, I was working in a position more suited to an elementary school graduate. Respect, fairness nor any sense of kindness existed in my world. My world was a humiliating nightmare. It was here in this first job after high school that I realized I would never find a job which would allow me to perform to my fullest potential, or receive fair pay for my work. And I had no one to advise me or help me address the abusive behavior of my employer. I remained silence because this was the destiny of my past, current and future life as an orphan.
November 24, 2015
Reflection Day 24
Dreams – Children dream of becoming someone. They dream of accomplishing something great. The opportunity for them to achieve their dream is possible with the support of family, community and others who support them. Education enables them to explore their dreams and further improves the chance they may come true. Orphans have dreams too. However, their dreams are not encouraged, or even acknowledged. With each passing year, their dreams fade away, and their focus becomes how to survive each day. The weight of the label “orphan” bears down on them. With no one supporting their ambition, their low self-esteem and rejection from mainstream society further makes achieving their dreams unrealistic.
In the survey I helped conduct last October, my orphanage sisters described their childhood dreams as wishing to become a teacher, psychologist, artist, missionary, nurse, and becoming wealthy (we were always hungry and had no personal possessions). None of them were able to achieve their dreams. Not one. Instead, their reality became to survive each day in a hostile environment. Their reality was to work day and night to provide for their family. The stigma they bore as orphans cut short any chance of reaching their dreams. My dream, strangely enough, was to escape from Korea. I knew that no matter how hard I worked, I would find nothing but rejection and disappointment. I also dreamed of having a family – a mom and a dad. And I knew this would never happen in Korea. My dream seemed unlikely, but I held onto it.
November 25, 2015
Reflection Day 25
Discovery – Compassion, kindness, sacrifice, humility, and a caring heart are qualities we all wish to possess, and that we wish our children to develop. But very few of us develop these qualities to the extent that we willingly and regularly place others before ourselves. For an orphan to discover someone with these qualities is life transforming.
The relentless physical labor and stress of dealing with my abusive employer soon caught up with me. My back ached, yet I could not cease my work. I could no longer tolerate my predicament. So, with no money, no home and no prospects, I quit my horrifying job. I ended up on the doorstep of Molly Holt at Il San. At that time, the Holt Ilsan Center cared for about 350 physically and mentally challenged residents. Molly took me in and did not ask for any payment in return. At first, I felt very out of place. It was strange to have my own room. It actually felt odd not living under someone dominating my life and treating me like a slave. No one belittled me. I was safe there. I was also surprised by the amount of care the residents received. They were treated with love, care and affection by their house mothers and staff members. There were no signs of distress among the residents. I was amazed. I had no idea such a world could exist for orphans. Molly Holt had devoted her life to ensure that these “unwanted” and ostracized children received the care they deserve. To this day, Molly continues to devote her life in voluntary service (Yes, she’s been a volunteer her entire life!) to these children. In Korea, it was a shame to have a disabled baby; this caused many families to abandon them. However, at Holt’s Il San Center, they were treated with love, affection, decency and respect. They were treated like “normal” children. The facility protected them, and they thrived. I do not believe that a government operated facility could provide this level of love and care. The residents were genuinely happy and content. Witnessing this, life just didn’t seem fair. I and my sisters were brought up in a different world, a world of fear and abuse. I felt cheated.
I watched Molly train each new house mother how to care for these special needs children. Molly had me help her with the children who came to the facility. Molly would train the children to feed themselves and take care of their personal needs. She was so patient with them as they worked toward gaining these skills. Neither Molly nor others looked down on the residents or treated them differently. I was in awe. I had finally discovered a safe and peaceful place. Molly loved and cared for these children who had been rejected by their own parents. She became their uhnni (big sister). It was also at this time I discovered that many orphans were adopted into foreign families, even disabled children. And, of course, it saddened me that I had been denied this opportunity.
November 26, 2015
Reflection Day 26
A Thankful Heart – Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to remember the things we most appreciate. Time to reflect on people who have influenced our lives. Time to recognize the blessings we have. It is also a time when families gather to celebrate with food and laughter. These special times create special memories.
Because our orphanage was small, the 26 of us grew up together enduring same abuse. When we were cast out into the world, our struggles were similar – our youth and naïveté, the stigma of being an orphan, and having no place to return or seek refuge. The only employment we found was menial labor. We received no support from the government or any other source. But we did have an orphan sisterhood. Even though we were spread out, and communication could be difficult, we tried to maintain contact. Even to this day, they continue to stay in touch because that is all they have as a “family” other than their husband’s family. They are their own support system, pitching in for one another when they can. For example, on one occasion, a sister lost a finger at her factory job. She didn’t have enough to cover her medical bills or survive during the time needed for recovery. The sisters helped her survive the ordeal. When another had a baby, with no parental support, the sisters were there to support her. When someone is in need of a place to stay due to an abusive husband, or is sick, sisters offer their homes to escape or recover.
On the occasions when these women get together in a tiny apartment, they do not dwell on the abuse or unjust treatment of their past, or the challenges of their continued existing status as an orphan (I know it’s so foreign for an American to understand how a middle-aged adult can still be judged as an orphan, but Korea is a society where bloodlines are critical both socially and economically). Instead, they cherish the time they can get together. They share food, encourage and listen to one another, and show each other compassion. They are bonded by their fate. They have lived a life of disadvantage but they possess pure hearts.
To me, this is the epitome of what Thanksgiving is all about. Despite what little they have, their concern and focus is on their sisters. They will always exist at the bottom of Korean society. They will never gain fame or economic security, but they appreciate what they do have. They share what little they have. I am thankful for the courage these women have to look for ways to help each other, even when it means donating money they cannot afford to another in greater need. I am thankful for their kind hearts. I am thankful that I can be a voice for them. This is my Thanksgiving story.
November 27, 2015
Reflection Day 27
Bloodlines – Although there are “matchmakers” in every country, they are not common in America. People connect socially, date, and then the relationship might lead to marriage. While someone’s education, race, wealth or family background may be factors which create similar world views, and increase the chance of success in the relationship, differences among these factors are not unusual. In America, people have an opportunity to pursue a relationship with anyone they desire.
In Korea, adult orphans are prohibited from dating the majority of the population. No matter the orphan’s educational level, quality of employment (both of which are unlikely to be very high) or physical appearance, concern over the bloodline would prevent the orphan from marrying into most families. If parents discovered one of their offspring beginning a relationship with an orphan (as unlikely as this would be), they would put an end to it. Most orphans would not even consider trying to begin a relationship with a “normal” member of society. The manner in which most orphans find a spouse involves someone introducing them to someone who is in a similar situation or worse. The two do not really date. They are introduced, meet on one or more occasions, and then more often than not, the orphan will accept the match out of desperation or obligation. Of course, women in this situation are always concerned about the possibility of abuse.
This was the case for my orphan sisters. Almost all of their marriages were arranged. Dating was rare. First of all, they all worked in either a factory or as a maid. These jobs gave them very little opportunity to meet other people. The men they married were farmers, those from poor families and/or those with little education. Most of my orphan sisters struggle in their marriages, particularly with their husbands’ families. (A number of their husbands actually force them to lie and fabricate a history to tell their family, so their family will not know their daughter-in-law is an orphan.) Many of my sisters continue to face abuse from their husband or husbands’ families. Their husbands tolerate this, and their wives are essentially slaves to his families. Remember that my orphan sisters have no place to take refuge. No family to whom they can go to and ask for help in defending themselves against this treatment. They are helpless.
During the time I was working at Holt’s Ilsan Center, I dated a man who knew I was an orphan. Soon into our relationship, I realized that he was comfortable slapping me on the face which humiliated me. I was afraid of him and wondered what he might do next. I found the strength (thankfully, I was now living in safety with Molly Holt) to stop seeing him. The second time involved a woman who knew I was an orphan. She saw me as someone with no likely prospects, and she wanted me to marry her nephew who was from a poor family. He was much older than me. I met with him twice. He made it clear that he was eager to marry me, but I had no interest in him. The notion of getting married to this man or anyone didn’t feel right. I wanted more from life than this common fate.
November 28, 2015
Reflection Day 28
The Orphans’ Ceiling – As we mature, we learn values such as fairness, integrity and trust. In our employment, we expect that our dedicated work will be recognized, appreciated and rewarded by our employers. We also expect equal treatment on the job regardless of our background. At least in United States we do, but not necessarily the case in Korea.
The values of fairness, integrity and trust are more difficult to learn growing up in an institution. Orphans have a difficult time grasping these concepts because they grow up without expecting others to imbue these values onto them. Orphans grow up expecting to face prejudice, discrimination, abuse and ostracization. And their expectation becomes their reality. The opportunity for adult orphans to succeed in a white-collar job is grim.
As I settled into “life” at Ilsan Center, I worked as a volunteer. I was given a position within the administrative office. I lived in Molly’s home, but worked in the office just like the employees, only I was an unpaid volunteer. My fellow employees, of course, were paid for their services. Out of a sense of obligation, however, the department did occasionally gave me pocket money. Although my job consisted of basic clerical work, I enjoyed it. By performing my job well, I hoped that the director at Ilsan Center would recognize my abilities and offer me a paid position. I waited patiently. One month lead to the next, and the months turned into years. Finally, a job opened. I was looking forward to finally being offered a real paid position. I met all the qualifications. I was so hopeful. To this day I vividly remember the director calling me into his office. He got right to the point; he told me that I could not have the job because I was an orphan. He said it in those direct terms. Almost three years of hard work suddenly turned into ashes. This was the moment I realized that the world, even within this social welfare institution, would never fully accept me. There are no words to describe how much I hated my status as an orphan. It was a curse I could not cure. It was so wrong! So unjust! It was as though the director had poured cold water over me and told me that I was worthless. I sobbed uncontrollably and helplessly. I was denied my humanity by people who were supposedly dedicated to the social welfare of disabled orphans. I was not a person; I was an orphan. I felt cheated by my employer. Instead of being rewarded for all of my hours of hard work, he punished me simply because of my status as an orphan. The director had taken everything I had worked so hard to achieve, my modest dreams, and crushed them using one single word: Orphan. I was rapidly losing my hope and desire to continue…
November 29, 2015
Reflection Day 29
One curse of being an adult orphan is you lack this support. You live your life in limbo. You live it in silence. Achieving one’s dreams while floating in this state is impossible. Only a miracle can save you. I was alone again. I lived with Molly for the time being, but I knew that I would need to venture out into a frightening and unwelcoming world all by myself. I refused to be a maid, and I refused to look for a job that did not require my level of education. I wanted a better opportunity. But with no place to move and no money, I was having a difficult time forming a plan to move out of Holt Ilsan Center. It was during this time that I met a family from Oregon. They were visiting with their three Korean adoptees. In fact, one of their daughters was from Holt Ilsan Center.
Occasionally, I gave foreign visitors a tour of the facility. I met countless adoptees and their families doing so. The families would come and go. Each time they left, I felt envious of the adoptees because they looked so happy, loved, educated, and most of all, they had a family of their own. The family from Oregon was the same. I showed them around the facility and then said goodbye, watching them depart with my usual feeling of jealousy and sense of unfairness.
Molly saw absolutely no hope for me in Korea. She felt bad for me and my orphan sisters. She knew that Korean society would not allow us to truly assimilate. She understood our struggles. I was not lucky enough to be adopted at a young age. There was nothing she could do other than voice her frustration to visiting foreigners, which she did. In fact, she never ceased to mention my unfortunate circumstance, and this was true with the Oregon family. A few days after they left, Molly told me that the family, the Mayberry family from Oregon, was interested in helping me.
I was in shock. I was in disbelief that this family who already had three Korean children would want to help me. And they did not just want to help me, they wanted to sponsor me and bring me to the U.S.! I did not know how to even absorb this news. The possibility that my dream of moving to the U.S. now seemed real, but it also seemed too good to be true. I could not believe that someone would be actually be interested in giving such an incredible gift to this worthless orphan. I could not believe that someone would try to change the course of my life forever!
I had no money, no job, and only a high school education. An adult orphan getting a chance to go to America is like finding a needle in a haystack. I was excited and scared at the same time. With many people praying for my success, support from the Eugene Holt office, and especially the persistent effort of Colleen Mayberry, I was blessed to arrive in America in 1987. The Mayberry family met me with open arms. And once I adjusted into and became a part their family, they extended their offer to formally adopt me as their daughter and sister. They were my miracle. They were God’s hands working on earth. Since that time I have been taking comfort in being a part this wonderful family and all the support and comfort it provides. After 23 years of being orphan, I finally had a place to call home. I finally had a family with people I could call mom and dad, sisters and brothers because I was no longer an orphan.
November 30, 2015
Reflection Day 30 – National Adoption Month
Epilogue – My journey for the past 29 days has been challenging, but I also hope it has been inspirational and educational. My initial goal was to compare the opportunities of an orphan after adoption with those of an orphan who remained in Korea and grew up in an orphanage. What I did not anticipate was the degree to which I would be exposing my life journey in such an intimate way.
My desire is for adoptees who have struggled with issues in their adoptive families to consider what their circumstance would realistically have been had they not been adopted. Even though we all share different views, my view is that I am thankful that adoptees were given an opportunity in life. I also hope that we might understand and empathize with the thousands of young and adult orphans who currently struggle within a society that does not value them. Adoptees have avoided the pain and stigma of living as an orphan.
The vast majority of adoptees have the privilege of education, opportunities to explore their interests, freedom to travel, a culture that does not condemn them based on their heritage, the ability to learn and celebrate the culture of their homeland, to eventually seek out birth parents and relatives, but most of all, to grow up within a family. Yes, adoptees must come to terms with having been abandoned or surrendered, as well as living as a minority, but these difficulties do not distinguish them from those who were never adopted.
It is true that orphans who remain in Korea continue to live life within their native language and culture. However, they are not in a position to speak up about their unjust treatment. They live in silence. Their society rejects them. There is no benefit in remaining in a country that does not value or accept you. Any notion of living a full life as an orphan in Korea is pure fantasy. The never-ending discrimination dooms any chance of success, socially or financially. Physical and emotional abuse will remain a part of their lives. This discrimination is a life sentence. All hope is crushed.
Since I arrived in America and joined a family as a young adult, my life has been transformed. I now live in a country that values my worth as an individual. Family background is unimportant. I no longer live in fear. My very first job at the Holt office in Eugene allowed me to earn a regular salary. I have been able to travel. I fell in love with a man, and we have two beautiful daughters. I graduated from college. I am able to pursue my interests and also enjoy friendships with those from various walks of life. These things would never have been possible had I remained in Korea. Had I not moved to America, my story would be bleak.
While I have been living an abundant life, my orphan sisters remain in Korea faced with continual discrimination. My prayer is that Korea will revolutionize how it views orphans, and that the government will focus on aiding adult orphans. However, having lived in both worlds, I can never support the position that a children is better off growing up in an orphanage, even under ideal circumstances, as long as they then enter a society which rejects them. The benefits of adoption far outweigh any benefit a child remaining in his or her homeland and facing such a difficult future.
Thank you for your support in following my journey and for your sincere concern and prayers for young and adult orphan and adoptees. Blessings to you all.