After her father died, Hyeon Ji relied on Holt child sponsors to help her finish school. Now, she has a message — and an update — to share with them.
After Hyeon Ji’s parents divorced, her mom left — and never tried to reconnect with her.
But her dad was loving and kind and devoted to his daughter. He struggled to find work, but when he had the money he would take his daughter out for sushi dinners. When Hyeon Ji was in her early teens, he began working nights as a taxi driver — leaving Hyeon Ji home alone. She always felt safe, though — knowing he would eventually come home.
When her father got sick, Hyeon Ji took care of him as best she could. For a while, he got better. Then, he got worse. When he passed away, Hyeon Ji was just 15.
“I cried a lot, and I felt so alone,” Hyeon Ji, now 20, says of that time in her life. “He had always been so strong, and I felt secure when I was with him.”
Today, Hyeon Ji is a confident young woman studying to become a nurse. She works as a nurse’s aid and earns enough to pay for her small apartment where she lives in Busan, Korea.
But at 15, when her father died, Hyeon Ji could not possibly have supported herself. She lived alone in the same apartment she had shared with her father since her mom left. She had a grandmother who did what she could to help her — often coming by during the week to cook dinner. And she had an older brother she adored, but he couldn’t help her; he has cerebral palsy and lives in a group home for people with special needs.
Heartsick, and scared, Hyeon Ji spent many nights with her eyes wide open — worrying about the future.
“I did not know what would become of me,” she says.
But Hyeon Ji was never truly alone. She had people all around her who loved and cared about her and would go above and beyond to help her succeed. Some of these people she knew. Others she had only heard about.
“[Growing up], I was told that there are many, many people with very warm hearts who were helping many children in Korea,” she says. “I feel so fortunate for their support, and for Holt.”
Learning of her struggle, sponsors in the U.S. began supporting Hyeon Ji even before her father passed away. They helped provide everything she needed to go to school — sending funds to buy school supplies and uniforms and pay the fees required for her to attend. Through their support, Hyeon Ji could also attend after-school training programs at a local community center, the Woonbong Center.
Through their generous monthly gifts, sponsors help keep the doors open at Woonbong and nine other community centers in Korea. The kids who attend the programs at these centers come from varying backgrounds, but they are all growing up in tough situations. Some have special needs and need physical therapy, daycare or special education. Some live with elderly grandparents who need help caring for their grandchildren. Some, like Hyeon Ji, live in poverty with their families and benefit from low-cost medical services and educational support. Ultimately, the goal of these centers is to provide a safe, supportive environment for children and families to learn and grow together — and to help children stay in the loving care of their families, no matter their circumstances.
Before her father passed, Hyeon Ji would spend her evenings at the center, socializing with friends and receiving tutoring to help her bring up her grades. After he passed, she turned to the staff at Woonbong for support and counseling.
“They were so kind. They encouraged me, and told me that I was capable of succeeding,” Hyeon Ji says of the Woonbong social workers. “They helped me with making sure that I would have a home, and how to perform needed tasks on my own. They made sure that my grandmother could help me as best she could.”
At the community center, Hyeon Ji also found the support and guidance she needed to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. The after-school classes she attended helped her strengthen core skills like math and science. And by her junior year of high school, she passed her licensing exam to become a nurse’s aid. After graduation, she immediately started working in the neurosurgery ward of the local hospital.
“Even though my work is very hard, I have much satisfaction from it,” she says. “I feel like what I am doing is important and matters to the people that I help.”
Hyeon Ji felt called to the nursing profession while observing the nurses who cared for her father. “They were so kind and strong,” she says, “and I became determined to do the same. I want to be able to help people in their time of need.”
But she also felt inspired by the selfless love and support she received from so many people in her life — especially her sponsors.
“I am very grateful to them,” she says of her sponsors — many of whom wrote her letters of encouragement while she was in school. “It is also part of why I want to become a nurse, so that I can also give to others — especially those who come from circumstances like mine.”
Today, Hyeon Ji is still working hard to save up money for nursing school. But she is determined to reach her goal.
She visits her brother when she can, and she remains close with her grandmother. From time to time, she even helps her out with a little extra money.
“Thank you for your kindness. Even though you may never personally meet the children you support, it makes a big difference in their lives.”
“She supported me so much, even though she has very little,” Hyeon Ji says of her grandmother. “I am so happy to be able to provide some things for her now that I have a job.”
And although she knows she could never repay the sponsors who supported her, she wants them to know how much they have done for her. And how truly grateful she is.
Asked what she would like to tell them, Hyeon Ji says:
“Thank you for your kindness. Even though you may never personally meet the children you support, it makes a big difference in their lives. I am so grateful to you.”
Robin Munro | Managing Editor
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