| By Moon Gwang-lip|
A non-profit private organization in Korea is providing overseas Korean adoptees with an opportunity to discover their roots and find their biological parents, if possible.
Since its creation in October 2003, the International Educational and Cultural Exchange Foundation (IECEF) has strived to help Korean adoptees who want to visit or live in Korea, mostly through its affiliate, the Adoptees' Homecoming Support Center.
``Most adoptees grow up without any relationship with Korea, wondering what it would be like to live here, to learn Korean and to be around Korean people. They often, but not always, have uncomfortable feelings about how to relate to Korea,’’ said Jessica Eunyung Fairbanks, manager of the center, in an interview with the Korea Times.
``We want to help these people find their origins by giving them information about how to come here, arranging places where they can stay during their visit, teaching them the language and the culture and helping them find their birth parents,’’ she said.
Sixty-seven adoptees have benefited from the center’s home stay program, which enabled them to stay in Korea for at least three months with Korean families.
``Adoptees send us e-mail saying they are thinking about coming here but don’t know how. We introduce them to Korean families who are ready to receive them, free of charge,’’ the 35-year-old manager said.
``We say it’s a great experience and most participants agree that while staying with a family, they can learn about Korean culture. They can get support from them if they need it,’’ she added.
The center has also helped adoptees look for their birth family members by posting their adoption information on its Web site and in brochures that are distributed throughout the nation.
Thanks to their work, two adoptees met their biological parents.
``The rate of adoptees finding their birth families is really low, so even though it’s only two, it’s very significant,’’ she said.
In an extended effort to locate their parents, it published the two-volume series titled ``The Letter Never Sent’’ in August 2004 and February 2005.
The books are a compilation of letters from Korean adoptees to their biological parents that they don’t know or barely remember.
Fairbanks and other staff members of the center wrote to several organizations in Korea and overseas and asked them to pass the letters on.
``I think the overall reactions have been positive. Adoptees have been really interested in the book. It’s for a specific audience, so it’s not a blockbuster seller, but I think people really liked the book. There was really a good variety of letters expressing many different feelings,’’ she said.
``We think the book also let the true voices of adoptees be heard in Korean society, where they still suffer from some prejudice.’’
The center plans to publish the sequel of the book sometime this year, possibly in September.
``It will be something similar in concept. We hope to include some information from the birth families (who are looking for their adopted children), but we are not sure how to find them yet,’’ she said.
``I think that the success of the second book will really help us get more letters,’’ she added, hoping that the new book will act as a channel for more adoptees to have their unheard voices heard.
Fairbanks, who is also a Korean adoptee, has been involved in adoptee issues for many years.
She grew up in Michigan in the U.S. She earned her master’s degree in social work and worked to organize groups for adoptees before coming to Korea.
``Just like other adoptees, coming to Korea was really important for me. Fortunately, a friend of mine was working here and introduced me to this foundation,’’ she said.
``This job is the ideal way to meet adoptees and help other adoptees arrive. I want to stay here for a long time.’’
Asked about future plans, Fairbanks said the center will set up more programs for adoptees.
``We would like to do some more cultural exchange programs,’’ she said.
``We want to provide more information about living in Korea, finding work and housing. We want to give them more than what they can get on the Web site.’’
The center also plans to participate in a large-scale adoptee-related conference in the U.S. this year.
``There’s a big conference in the U.S. next July with more than four hundred people attending. Our organization will attend that conference, distribute our brochure and sell our books,’’ Fairbanks said.