Every last Sunday of January is the culmination of international charity week for Catholics in Korea. All the offerings made on that day go to help less privileged people in other parts of the world. Korean Catholics have been holding the event for the past 20 years.
“Every year we are seeing an increasing amount of offerings on this particular Sunday. And a large number of people are praying for others, which is equally as valuable as donations,” said Father Simeon Jong-keon Lee, executive director of Caritas Korea, the Korean branch of Caritas International, an international Catholic charity organization.
The subsidiary of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Korea oversees the management of the overseas aid program with the donated funds. From 1993 to 2012, it has spent a total of 30 billion won on 655 projects worldwide, which is equivalent to spending 2.3 billion a year. Last year, the group spent 3.4 billion won on 48 projects. This year, the amount is expected to surge to 4.5 billion won.
|Father Simeon Jong-keon Lee, executive director of Caritas Korea, talks to The Korea Herald on Jan. 24 at the organization’s office in Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
The organization is associated with Caritas offices in other countries to provide support to underdeveloped counties in various fields including emergency relief, development projects, North Korea programs, domestic work and more. As an official representative of Caritas International, the group has also been working in the North.
“Once things change, we hope there will be more things we can do,” Lee said, referring to the coming change in government.
This year Caritas will focus on Africa and South Asia. One of the signature projects of the organization is supporting the construction of houses for displaced people in Bangladesh.
“It takes about 3 million won to build a house. Once one has a house, he or she has a sense of stability and suddenly can do anything he or she wanted to do. But in that country there are still people who cannot afford a place to stay, which obviously leads to the evil cycle of poverty,” the Catholic priest said. The group has constructed a total of 2,463 buildings in the nine years since it launched the project.
Caritas is also actively engaged in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nepal, where welling and water purification projects are of utmost importance.
“Securing clean water means more than survival,” Lee said. “In Africa, people walk tens of kilometers to get clean water. The duty is usually imposed upon women, which forces them to spend hours just securing water. This obligation deprives them of opportunities for education and enrichment of other aspects of their lives. Water is the start of securing a certain quality of life,” he stressed.
Lee said he has seen hope in Africa, especially in South Sudan, which is now recovering from the scars of civil war that ravaged the country for 39 years.
“The soil is good, which means that farming is possible. People are willing to learn and put their feet on the ground. I am sure that there is something about Sudan,” the director said.
But Lee is opposed to the one-on-one sponsorship system, where a donor in the more developed country forges ties with a recipient (usually a child) in the less-developed region and makes monthly donations until the latter becomes an adult.
“I appreciate the good will of the donors but that is quite wrong,” he said, adding that the system is commonly used in Korea to attract public attention. He said that the system costs too much money in administration.
“A small troop of people will be formed to help you and your recipient in writing letters and taking photographs, among others. The cost easily adds up to more than half of the donation you make,” he said. He also pointed that those who are not chosen to be paired to a donor feel even more devastated.
“Make donations on projects. That’s wiser,” he said.
By Bae Ji-sook (email@example.com