Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Korean Welfare System

It has been said, and it has the ring of truth, missioners are not the best ones to ask for an understanding of the environment in which they work. We probably identify too closely with the people and do not see the larger context. Be that as may, I have certain feelings about the Korean welfare system from my dealings with the Catholics over the years. I have heard criticism of the welfare system but from my experience in Korea, the welfare system is doing very well.

I can recall in the early 70s when a grandmother who was senile, was dropped off in front of our kindergarten in the town in which we had the parish. I saw her on my trip to the kindergarten and told the catechist to take care of her. The next day she was still there; I was upset but there was little he could do he said. We washed her and brought her to the nearby Catholic Hospital where they said her legs were frost bitten and have to be amputated. We went to the different government offices in the town but they could do nothing. That was one of the reason they moved the street people from one provincial district to another. They did not have the facilities.

What would I be faced with now that I had responsibility for this senile grandmother who couldn't walk? After much worry and gathering of information, the Sisters in the parish told me, if she could walk she would be accepted at House of Hope in Taegu were the Sisters were working. We bought artificial limbs and for a week taught her how to walk. In the end she was accepted and a big worry disappeared. In those days the Korean Welfare system was just not in place.

Today seeing what the welfare system is doing is just marvelous. The government I am told is trying to enhance the quality of life, reduce unemployment, poverty and inequality; what I see is the poor when sick go to the hospital, if they are without family they are given an allowance, the poor children in school are given computers. The Government also helps the private welfare sector once a program has been started with the buildings and personnel, if the conditions are met, they contribute to the operation of the facility. I do not hear any quibbling about it being run by a religious organization or not. The private and religious groups are also very active in this welfare system. I am very much impressed with what the Government has done over the last 30 years. There may be holes in the system but what I see is tremendous improvement over the past. May the treatment of the weak and poorer segments of our society continue to be a concern of those in Government.


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