Two foster mothers in Korea reunite with their foster children in Eugene, Oregon
By Ashli Keyser, managing editor
Hyun Soo entered the arms of Mrs. Cho, Suk-hee as an infant in 2001. The foster mother, her husband and their two children welcomed the young boy into their home, their hearts and unconditionally accepted him as part of their family. Mrs. Cho cared for him like any doting mother caring for a precious son. She fed him, kissed his tears, bathed him, hugged him and loved him. And then after 11 months of devoted care, Mrs. Cho completed one final act of love for her beloved foster son. Tears filling her eyes, Mrs. Cho embraced him one last time, kissed his soft cheek and said goodbye.
To raise and love a child as your own and then to give that child up is the ultimate in sacrificial love, says Paul Kim, Holt director of services for Korea. “Foster mothers in Korea have their hearts broken time and time again,” he says. “But time and time again they continue to offer their love to children. It takes a special person to be able to do that.”
To honor the tremendous commitment of Holt’s foster mothers in Korea, each year Holt hosts a reception, inviting two foster mothers to visit the headquarters in Eugene, Oregon and reunite with their dearly loved foster children. This year, Mrs. Cho and Mrs. Kim, Kyung-ae were the honored guests.
Three families – the Mankowskis from Colorado, the Latimers from the Portland area and the Tablers from Oregon City– traveled to see Mrs. Kim, and the Redferns from Corbett, Oregon traveled with their son, Hyun Soo — now called Emmett — to see Mrs. Cho.
Entering the greeting area, Mrs. Cho walks right up to Hyun Soo without hesitation. “I knew it was you,” she says. “I could tell by your face.”
The fact that Mrs. Cho remembers Emmett after nine years means so much to Emmett’s mother, Jenne. It means even more to Emmett. “I’m so happy to know that I was loved,” says Emmett.
During the emotional reception, Mrs. Cho and Mrs. Kim receive awards in honor of their decades of service to Holt Korea, having welcomed 49 and 63 children into their homes, respectively, and also saying goodbye to them.
“We are so happy to be here,” says Ann Tabler. “My husband just returned with Willa in June. I keep watching Willa to see if she recognizes Mrs. Kim.”
The emotions and the happiness of the occasion can be felt throughout the room. At one point, Mrs. Cho lovingly wraps her arm around Emmett, who returns the gesture by resting his head on her shoulder. The only child sitting on her side of the room, Emmett is certainly worth the long trip for Mrs. Cho. “He stayed with me the longest,” she says as Paul Kim translates. “I am so happy to see that he is so well taken care of.” Mrs. Cho then hands Emmett two bookmarks. “She wants to make sure he’s reading,” says Paul with a smile.
The families continue to visit with the foster mothers, exchanging photos, sharing memories. One memory, in particular, stands out for Emmett, and it comes with a question he’s been waiting to ask. “Emmett remembers someone giving him piggyback rides,” says Jenne. When this memory is interpreted to Mrs. Cho, a spark of delight immediately enters her eyes. “Oh, absolutely!” she says. “My husband carried him around on his back all the time!“ This warrants a shy smile from Emmett, proud that his one memory is so enthusiastically confirmed by Mrs. Cho.
The important memory is also further evidence, as Paul says, that it’s not only the foster mothers in Korea who care for the children. The entire family offers unconditional love and devoted care to each child entering their home. “My husband and our whole family just love him,” says Mrs. Cho.
While in the United States foster care often receives a negative reputation, it is considered a badge of honor in Korea and one that is often passed down from generation to generation. “Sons and daughters in Korea see just how much joy caring for these children brings to their parents, and they want to be a part of that legacy,” Paul explains.
When children come into care at Holt Korea, it’s the foster mothers, like Mrs. Cho and Mrs. Kim, who wrap them up and give them comfort and warmth for most likely the first time in their lives. They love the children as if they were their own and provide for them until they go home to loving families. Mrs. Kim says it’s painful to say goodbye, but it’s not about sacrifice, it’s about love.
After the joyful and emotional event and some additional time spent with their foster children, Mrs. Cho and Mrs. Kim depart for Korea. And just before leaving the hotel, Mrs. Kim looks up to the sky and speaks to her late mother about the brief time she spent with her foster children in the United States. “Look, mother,” she says. “Here I am in America, surrounded by love.”