Sunday, August 2, 2015

Korean Credit Union Movement

Catholic Peace Weekly has an article in the beginning of the credit union movement in Korea. Sister Mary Gabriella (1900-1993) a Maryknoll Sister started the movement on March 19,1960  in Pusan with a three-week  course which explained all the elements of the movement, and how different it was  from the Korean mutual aid groups.

Holy Family Credit Union was the first credit union and began with 27 members on the Feast of St. Joseph, May 1st 1960. The members were employees of the Maryknoll Hospital, Catholic Relief Services, and members of a Catholic parish. Two months later, a credit union began in Seoul  established by Father Chang Dae-ik (1923-2008). This was composed of members  from parishes in Seoul.

Under the Japanese,Korea had financial associations,  which had little trust among the citizens and was replaced with the credit union movement. In the 60s, Korea was in great poverty and was receiving surplus food from the States. In the farming areas if you borrowed one bag of rice within a year's time you would have to pay it back  with  two bags. In the private lending of money  interest was as high as 10 percent monthly.                  

Starting the credit union required a great deal of trust when you are dealing with great poverty but the efforts were made and proved successful. Both Sister Gabriella and Fr. Chang took notice of the Antigonish movement in Canada, affiliated with St. Francis Xavier University, they both attended the Coady Institute for the necessary education on Credit Unions which they imported into Korea. 

From these early beginnings, the movement spread quickly in Korea. This year is the 55th year of its inauguration in Pusan. There are over 5 million members in 920 credit unions. Korea has the 4th largest credit union in the world.

An accompanying article has the  story  of a president emeritus of a credit union  who says in the article that his life was changed by meeting Sister Gabriella. He was a bank employee. His life was comfortable but meeting  sister he left his work and went after a dream.  Sister needed young people to work with her, and he found something to do  he found satisfying. He gave talks in the seminars in which they establish  credit unions and  prepared leaders for the movement.

At that time, Pope John 23 published his encyclical Mater and Magister which he says gave the movement a great deal of strength and energized them. The credit union movement helped to eradicate high interest rates, influenced the growth  of democracy in Korea, and was a good influence on the other cooperative movements in Korea. He hopes they don't  lose their identity, work to implement the  credit union principles, and not become like a bank.

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