Soroptimist at NLCS Jeju is a small service group in our school devoted to promoting gender rights throughout the community, especially focusing on aiding the young single mothers around us. Although our local group is independent and student-led, the name Soroptimist originates from the worldwide volunteer service organization Soroptimist International, an organization focused on spreading gender equality across the world and enhancing women’s lives more broadly. Its name being a combination of “sorror,” meaning sister, and “optima,” meaning best, the organization has launched numerous diverse projects since 1921 with the help of a worldwide network of more than 75,000 volunteer members to ensure “the best for women”. When establishing our local group, all members agreed that this name should be used since we shared common objectives with this large, trustworthy organization. Since this was a new group initiated by inexperienced students, the members decided to regard Soroptimist International as a guide to successfully servicing and siding women in their lives. This academic year, I joined the group and participated in various activities to work towards our common goal, and we achieved much more than expected despite the abnormal, challenging circumstances presented by the ongoing pandemic.
When I first joined the group based on my friend’s recommendation, I had the chance to listen to a short introductory lecture on single mothers and the gender inequality prevalent throughout Korea. While I was confident that I already possessed enough knowledge on gender rights and awareness of the issues around me, the presentation on single mothers was eye-opening for me. I was shocked by the disparity between my conception of single mothers and their reality; to my surprise, the single mothers in single mother centers are similar in age to my group members and myself, with the youngest mothers being around 14 or 15. In contrast with their youth, the conditions they have to endure are quite difficult, struggling to feed and raise their babies while also taking care of themselves. Although they are aided by support centers, they eventually have to leave and start an independent life for themselves and their children once they reach adulthood.
I conducted an email interview with our supervisor, Ms. Jinyoung Kim. She said, “This year, the ultimate goal was to receive donations of baby clothes and supplies for Aeseowon, a local center for single mothers that Soroptimist continues to support and provide practical help with fundraising activities.” In addition, members themselves conducted discussions about the reality of single mothers in Korea to raise awareness and also planned and implemented various promotion activities to expand and improve students’ awareness of the issue. Our original plan was to visit the center ourselves and assist the people there, but we had to adjust our plans because of COVID-19.
Thus, the main project we launched this year was a “clothing drive” within our school. We started by creating posters and encouraging people to make donations. We then placed containers around the school so that people could drop off donations at any time. As a result, we quickly obtained loads of clothing and toys to be sent off to Aeseowon.
|[Soroptimist members heading off to the laundromat with donations.
Photo Credit: Ria Ju]
Thus, the main project we launched this year was a “clothing drive” within our school. We started by creating posters and encouraging people to make donations. We then placed containers around the school so that people could drop off donations at any time. As a result, we quickly obtained loads of clothing and toys to be sent off to Aeseowon. Yet, a major issue concerning the conditions of the donations arose. We noticed that much of the donations collected comprised broken toys and ragged, stained clothing, some of which gave off a terrible stench; we even found used undergarments. To deal with this, our members had to spend weeks picking out all of the non-reusable clothing and toys and making countless visits to the laundromat. This process was extremely strenuous, which made us all realize that the donation collection process needs to be changed for next time.
|[Soroptimist members with the Aeseowon staff. Photo Credit: Ria Ju]|
Afterwards, we split the clothing and toys into two groups: one to be sent to Aeseowon, and the other to be sent to ‘Beautiful Shop’, a Korean nonprofit organization and charity shop. As a group we visited Aeseowon to hand the donations over, and the other donations were sent to ‘Beautiful Shop’ by courier service. In addition to this, our group held a fundraiser at our school to raise funds to also be sent to Aeseowon, along with a series of activities such as holding group discussions, making infographics, and creating a documentary film to raise gender awareness in our community.
|[Email interview with Ms. Jinyoung Kwon. Photo Credit: Ria Ju]|
To conclude, Soroptimist was very successful in aiding single mothers this year despite the pandemic. Yet, in the course of learning about the circumstances of single mothers in Korea with our members, I came to the realization that a practical change needs to be made throughout Korean society in relation to the stereotypical views of single parents. As Ms. Kwon emphasized, “In order to change society as a whole, we first need to change our individual perceptions and show continuous interest.” Although helpful, clothes and supplies are not the primary needs of single parents; rather, it is the elimination of the stereotypes that place such a great burden on them and segregate them from society.
North London Collegiate School Jeju
Ria Ju email@example.com