Mrs. Im Soon Kim started Ai Kwang Won during the Korean War in 1952. She was preparing a study in America before the war broke out, but her life changed when she lost her husband to the war. As a result of this very unfortunate event, Mrs. Kim and her daughter decided to retreat to the GoJe island. Many other Koreans were doing this too because of the hostile circumstances caused by the war. One day while she was on the island, a desperate health officer left seven orphans to her care and disappeared. Little did they know that that was the humble beginning of the Ai(Love) Kwang(Light) Won(Garden).
Today, the Ai Kwang Won houses about 250 disabled orphans with different degree of disabilities. About 100 volunteers take care of these disabled people, ranging from babies to adults. Some need highly skilled care including tracheostomy tube care, respiratory care, care of autistic people, and chromosomal abnormalities.
Mrs. Kim has been the recipient of many different awards including the Ramon Maksaysay award. In 1983, she was invited to United States of America for the Cerebral Palsy meeting in 1983. After the meeting, she met her daughter at the church she attends in Richmond, Virginia. This church is the same church my brother attends. When he saw Mrs. Kim’s presentation he was so touched by it that he started the Friends of Ai Kwang Won USA. After my brother retired from his medical practice I decided to get involved in Ai Kwang.
This year Ai Kwang Won asked if I could get some medical supplies. I contacted Henry Schein to see if I could buy medical supplies with a discount. I was told I could apply for a charity donation from the Henry Schein Cares Foundation. Together, with the help of a few friends from Ai Kwang Won, USA, I applied. The Henry Schein sent me 17 boxes of medical supplies. The mailing cost of all the packages to Korea was very expensive, so I reduced number of boxes by reorganizing those boxes. One of my friends donated the mailing cost and I was able to send those packages to the American Naval Base in Korea. A pastor in that Naval Base was kind enough to receive and to deliver them without the custom inspection to the Ai Kwang Won. All the supplies including medications were delivered without any problem.
I decided to visit the Ai Kwang Won while I was in Korea for my medical school reunion. I was only able to spend one day there but it was a very emotional experience. All the facilities including the dormitories, physical therapy rooms, bakery, flower garden and school were very modern and clean.
Today, the Ai Kwang Won receives fund from the Korean government. In addition, since Korea as whole has become a very developed country, they also receive donations from many organizations such as the U.S. naval base and other accredited individuals. There are still many needs because of aging structures and high demand of medical supplies of “Friends”, but all of the residents at Ai Kwang Won(the “Friends”) were happy and clean.
The “Friends” gave my wife and I a welcome performance which was very touching. I have never experienced such a warm and pure feeling in my life. It was wonderful to see the friendliness, happiness and love from “Friends”.
I took pictures and you can see some “Friends” and others that dedicate their lives to the Ai Kwang Won, including Mrs. Kim. They were very grateful for all of the gifts from Henry Schein and I am planning to visit again in the near future.