Urimaul: A village allowing self-support for disabled

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 29, 2013 - 20:45
  • Updated : Mar 31, 2013 - 10:14
Tucked away in a quiet area of Ganghwado Island in Incheon, 50 intellectually disabled adults work and live under the guidance of retired Anglican bishop Kim Soung-soo.

For a self-reliant life, they grow and sell bean sprouts, and also package goods and assemble simple electric parts. They also join programs including expert-assisted art therapy, a horticulture class and bake bread to share with local seniors.

The community, named “Urimaul” (Our Village), is formally a social welfare corporation of the Seoul diocese of the Anglican Church of Korea, but it is also a place where the village chief carries on a life of service to those in need.

Though the founder Kim says he was originally only half willing to work for those with intellectual disabilities, his compassion indicates otherwise.

“When I presided over a graduation ceremony as principal of St. Peter’s School, I called names of graduating students to present diplomas. But they hesitated to come forward. I realized that they thought, ‘Once I receive a diploma, I will be barred from entering the school from tomorrow,’” Kim said.

“Their parents told me that they need to work or learn more after graduation. I replied, ‘If so, we will do that.” 

Kim Soung-soo, chief of Urimaul, a community he built for the intellectually challenged to lead a self-reliant life, poses in front of a poster of Urimaul bean sprouts. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

He went to see Sohn Hak-kyu, then welfare minister, to explain the difficult situation facing the intellectually disabled, and told him that he needed 2 billion won (1.8 million) to build Urimaul.

“Thanks to the Lord, Sohn provided the money. I am always grateful to him.”

He also raised an additional billion won by selling coffee at the Seoul diocese cathedral and receiving donations. The village was built with the money. He donated the 6,600 square meter lot it is built on, which he inherited from his father.

Urimaul was opened in March 2000. Aiming for self-reliance, it first grew lettuce in a greenhouse only to find it difficult to make ends meet, and then tried chili peppers, which also generated little in sales. It turned to bean sprouts in 2001. After going through many twists and turns to sell them, it found a stable buyer in 2003. Urimaul signed a supply contract with iCOOP Korea, a consumer cooperative focused on ethical consumerism.

It seems that good luck does not come alone.

Urimaul bean sprouts were certified as environment friendly produce in 2005.
Intellectually disabled workers perform their jobs at a bean sprout factory in Urimaul. (Courtesy of Urimaul)

Then, Pulmuone Food Co., well known for organic vegetables, extended a helping hand in 2011.

But nowadays, Kim has a worry. Pulmuone says it will buy more of Urimaul bean sprouts, but the village’s current output is limited by the capacity of the equipment it brought in last year.

“Had we known Pulmuone’s plan when we built a new factory last year, we would have borrowed more for a larger capacity. But I believe God will send us a helper.”

One of the reasons why he sticks to bean sprouts and tries to earn more money is that nothing is more valuable to handicapped people than jobs. About five people working in the bean sprout factory are paid 800,000 won a month apiece, with the smallest salary being 200,000 won.

He wants to raise the average pay to 1.2 million won because such amount will enable some savings for a retired life.

“A 54-year-old man currently works here. He is a graduate of the first class of St. Peter’s School. He is to retire at 58 under the labor standards act. What else can he and others do at home after retirement? If we create a nursing home here, they will be guaranteed lifelong security. An old people’s home is our second hope,” Kim says.

Urimaul has made progress to stand on its own financially. Still, it gets precious assistance from sponsors and Kim is always thankful to them. One of them is Samsung Corning Precision Materials. The company takes the disabled people of Urimaul on an annual trip to Everland, an amusement park, gives clothes and canned foods on national holidays and helps them on many other occasions.

By Chun Sung-woo (