Ae Ran Won

Boonyoung Han

There is an inevitable, yet invisible, connection between the course of my life as an adoptee—and the women today who struggle in circumstances not unlike those that played a vital role in the formation of Korean international adoption. Therefore, the search for a deeper understanding of the social and historical roots of the Korean adoption phenomenon led me years ago to Aeranwon, a place where the decision is made. In the fall 2006, ASK, an adoptee organization based in Seoul, initiated discussions between the women at Aeranwon and intercountry adoptees. These meetings provided a much-needed space for both parties to share feelings and concerns for—as well as interest in—each other. Since then, the spirit of Aeranwon and the values it has relentlessly promoted over the years have been a decisive motivating factor in my pursuit of a professional career within the field.

My interest in work related to single mothers grew steadily as I began studying for my MSW, and I was tremendously happy to be offered the opportunity to spend most of my 2009-winter vacation interning at Aeranwon. I vividly recall how the tranquil, almost serene, beauty of the newly renovated exterior building stood in sharp contrast to the vibrant interior atmosphere—the phones constantly ringing, people coming and leaving, children crying and laughing; a dynamic atmosphere imbued with hope, energy and real will to change. However, it was (and still is) the thoroughness and endurance of services available that I found most inspiring—that is to say, the opportunity Aeranwon gave women in need to receive support until the moment they were truly self-sufficient in every way, be that three months, three years, or maybe even longer. The work carried out by Aeranwon embodies the recognition and understanding of the importance of addressing—and doing something concretely about—the whole range of issues related to single mothers and their precarious existence in modern Korean society, such as education, work, housing and child care.

For any social work student, the field practicum offers an essential opportunity to familiarize oneself with the realities of life, and Aeranwon has always been a popular choice because of its values and methods. Over the years, I too had become greatly fascinated by Aeranwon’s unique philosophy which so obviously sets it apart from other women’s shelters. Initially starting out as a shelter for runaways and former sex workers, Aeranwon has shown a remarkable ability to adjust to contemporary needs of those it wows to serve.

I can only wonder how my own life might have been different had opportunities like the ones Aeranwon offers been available at the time when my Korean mother—and many other women—were struggling with a deplorable system of support (or the lack thereof). As of 2009, the Aeranwon’s network included a facility for pre- and immediate postnatal care, a facility for mothers and their children, an independent housing facility, a one-stop service center, and a group home for yeong women who have chosen to adopt their children. These facilities have been created over time in response to women’s specific needs, and I can only imagine that Aeranwon’s work will be in even greater demand, as we—after a record low number of births in the late 1990’s—have witnessed a steady growth of births in general, and in particular births outside marriage in the first decade of the 21st century.

Deeply inspired by these women and their admirable determination to make it in a world that has turned its blind eye to their existence, as well as their children, I hope to be able to carry on the values of Aeranwon in my future social work, and thereby contributing to the continuing support of the underprivileged, as well as community building across generations, across cultures and across broken bonds.

Seoul, March 2010

Boonyoung Han
Soongsil University, MSW candidate