This December, Holt’s director of program and foundation relations, Rose McBride, traveled on Holt’s Korea Gift Team trip along with 19 other Holt families, adoptees and staff members. During the week, the gift team brought gifts and joy to the children in Holt’s care in Korea. Here, she writes about their visit to an unwed mothers shelter in Daejeon.
Holt’s South Korea Christmas team traveled to Acchimdeul Center located in Daejeon, South Korea’s fifth largest city, to visit one of Holt Korea’s six single mothers shelters.
As our visit began, we were treated to a most beautiful rendition of Arirang, performed by a very talented musician who serves as the volunteer music teacher for the women in shelter.
The date for our visit here this year was specially set for our team to participate in celebrating “Dol” — a child’s first birthday! It was doubly special as this was the first Dol ever celebrated at Acchimdeul.
Historically, the infant mortality rate was quite high in Korea. To survive to year one was considered a good indicator that the child would indeed live and thus the reason for a big celebration of life.
It is traditional in Korean culture for a family to rent a hall and have an MC involved in a child’s first birthday celebration. It is a huge party, one not held at home. For single mothers and their children at the shelter, the other women and Holt Korea shelter staff are often the most immediate family a young, single mother has around her on this most important of days in her child’s life.
The birthday boy’s mother had created a short, personal and poignant video about her son’s first year of life. In it she shared that he was born exactly one year ago today at 1:07 p.m. As the photos of him lit up the screen, she expressed to us that “babies are like little generals, really.”
“He started walking at 8 months and hasn’t stopped moving since!” she said. The pride she has in her son is unmistakable in the video and to us in the room as she holds him in her arms.
The room is festive. The pretty cakes and center table are arranged beautifully.
An enchanting moment, “Doljabi,” begins. A variety of objects are placed on a tray and presented to the one-year-old for consideration to choose from. The items on the tray include an archer’s bow (representing leadership); a gavel (judge); a stethoscope (doctor); dental mirror (dentist); rope (long life); drum stick (musician); money (wealth); calligraphy brush (scholar), etc.
There is no pressure for the child to make his or her selection, though the objects on the tray representing the most lucrative of careers tend to be loaded toward the front. And not just a little bit of drama occurs as the youngster surveys the objects for quite some time, touching but not quite selecting from the array set before him. We join the room full of others chanting “Chabarah” – “pick it up!” At last, he chooses the gavel and with it firmly in his grasp, the tray is withdrawn and our team members, staff and other young mothers cheer and applaud his choice. We hope he will grow up and indeed achieve a good career. Perhaps he WILL be a judge!
Toward the end of the party, our team presents a gift to the young mother for her baby, which she graciously and gratefully receives.
In an emotional ending to the party, several staff and other young mothers from the shelter speak directly to the young woman, wishing her and the baby bright futures and sharing remembrances. This young woman’s sister had come to the party and tearfully talked to her sister from her heart. This mother and child will return home in mid-December to live with her family and all of the family has said they will help to raise him. It resonated with all of us how critical that support from her family and society will be for this mother and child to succeed as they leave the shelter. They remain in our thoughts and prayers for a beautiful life.
During our time at Acchimdeul, Director Chung spoke with our team about the history and current work they do. “These women come to us for help,” he said. “They are estranged from their extended families. We provide a sense of belonging here that they celebrate with the larger group — their family. Mothers and children who leave care often come back for alumni gatherings.”
- 70 percent of single women in the six shelters choose to parent. There is no pressure to make either the decision to parent or to relinquish. The shelter is a place of safety in which the mother chooses the decision for her and her child. Holt Korea provides the tools to empower mothers to parent if that is their choice.
- Established eight years ago, 1,128 women and 921 babies have been in their care. The social workers are like aunties to the women and the director is like a grandmother. They celebrate birthdays and holidays and other special occasions with the young women and the children. There are 27 women and 13 babies in care at the moment. All are doing well.
- Director Chung introduced her staff of eight, which includes the director, the manager of operations, four social workers, the nurse and kitchen coordinator. There are two aspects of shelter services. The regular shelter is located in this building and Clover, which is the long-term shelter caring for women and their children for up to 2 years. Both provide full services and give moms a good start to successfully raise their children.
- The local ladies auxiliary group supports the shelter programs at Daejeon, but individual women also support the work. Director Chung introduced the current auxiliary president and former president.
- Single moms come to Acchimdeul at a variety of ages, needing counseling appropriate to help them cope with problems. They all need vocational rehabilitation support. This shelter offers nurturing support for the mothers and care for the children. Together, they learn that “their lives are reborn as mothers” and the loving staff helps them prepare to be proud mothers.
- We are 100 percent dedicated to each woman and child who enters the world here. Educational support, therapy, counseling and vocational training are what we add to the women’s lives. With this support, we help women to reenter life and a profession or job toward a successful future. Our first resident has completed high school and has successfully taken the entrance exam for college. She will be entering college soon. Not only is this celebrated as her personal success, but she is a role model to the other women, who see what she has accomplished and also begin to believe that they can succeed as well.