Q&A Profile: Leanne Stein '05
Leanne Stein '05 explains how she helped establish the Korean Kids & Orphanage Outreach Mission to enrich the lives of children living in orphanages and group homes.
How did the formation of KKOOM come about?
Our path to creating KKOOM began with our Fulbright fellowship experiences as volunteers at an orphanage in Gumi, South Korea, called “Samsungwon.” Having successfully raised funds for additional supplies for the orphanage from our friends and family, we started talking about the needs of the other orphanages and group homes in Korea and what we could do to help. Thus, in 2007 we created the NGO, Korean Kids & Orphanage Outreach Mission (KKOOM), so we could continue to help Samsungwon and also expand to other orphanages in South Korea. KKOOM means “dream” in Korean.
What specific challenges do these children face and how will KKOOM help improve their lives?
The biggest challenge the children face is not having the same opportunities, especially in terms of education. Most parents send their children to hagwons or after-school academies to supplement their education. While Samsungwon children do receive sponsorships to hagwons, there is not enough money or scholarships for all of them. When we volunteered and held classes at Samsungwon, we taught supplemental English classes to help reduce that gap.
KKOOM seeks to enrich the lives of these children by providing educational materials, new experiences and special programming. We see what we have been able to do to help the eighty-nine children at Samsungwon and want to expand this effort.
Since the organization's founding in September, what has been achieved already?
Even though KKOOM was just established in September, we have already raised more than $5,000 to continue to support Samsungwon and to branch out.
In December we organized a Christmas party at Samsungwon where twentyfive current Fulbrighters pitched in to help with the party and to cook a spaghetti dinner and French toast breakfast. Each child received gifts sent from American donors and they made holiday thankyou cards to honor KKOOM's “360° giving” philosophy. We believe that you should be able to see your gifts home to fruition, and as Fulbright fellows we understand the importance of cultural understanding and learning. We hope through programs like these we help the orphanages and group homes, and also raise awareness and teach donors more about South Korea.
What are KKOOM's goals?
We have big dreams. We would like to be able to sponsor children to go to hagwons and create more after-school programs. We want to be able to provide support to the youth after they leave and start their own lives and encourage them to continue post-high-school education. We want to provide an exchange program for some of the children to come visit the U.S. for two weeks. We want to serve their needs, whatever those may be, so that their lives can be as rich and full as any other Korean child's.
How did your Pitzer education lead you to and prepare you for this work?
Perhaps the most important thing I learned at Pitzer was that I could make a difference in a community. Sometimes all the problems one sees in the world seem like too much to fix, too much to handle, too much to be bothered with. But at Pitzer I gained the confidence and the skills to initiate change, and the realization that every little effort helps.
We are a global world, a global community, and our actions affect everyone. I know without a doubt that I would not have studied abroad in Botswana, would not have applied for a Fulbright, and would not have thought I could help start an NGO without my four years at Pitzer. My Pitzer education set the stage that allowed me to receive a Fulbright.
Throughout my fourteen months in Korea, Pitzer influenced every interaction, conversation and choice I made. Although it is hard to pinpoint exactly what part of my Pitzer experience and what part of my Fulbright year led me to help create KKOOM, it is all undoubtedly connected.
What inspires your work?
The time I spent volunteering at Samsungwon during my Fulbright was my favorite part of each week. The kids took me completely into their lives and worlds. They taught me Korean and about Korea—they grew to trust me. They gave me so much, if not more, than I gave them. The kids inspire me, inspire all of us involved in KKOOM to create more opportunities for them.
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing this same type of work?
Believe in yourself. Opportunities come to those who seek them and strive to help make a difference. None of us involved in KKOOM realized three years ago how big we could get, how much money we could raise, how much we could do. It all started because we needed money for the educational programs we were running, and it turned into a dream to expand to help other orphanages and group homes. So my advice may seem simple, but I think that if you trust in yourself and believe in what you are doing you will find that opportunities will present themselves, many times opportunities you did not even realize were there.
For more information visit www.kkoom.org.