He has lived a checkered life from a coal miner in Germany to a university professor and chairman of a leading relief organization, ADRF (African Destitute Relief Foundation). Professor Kwon Yi-chong is a proud graduate of Shinheung High School in Jeonju City.
Born in Jangsu, North Jeolla Province, in 1940, Mr. Kwon worked as a construction worker after completing military service. He looked for a good job, but there were few.
In 1964, he went to Germany to work at the Adolf coalmine in Merkstein. While toiling at the underground mine, he began to study German. He overcame challenges and gained the bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees on education.
After returning to Korea, he has gone to great lengths to improve the educational environment. He served as a university professor on education for a longer period.
Here are excerpts from an interview with Chairman Kwon:
Question: You experienced grinding poverty and risked your life while working as a German coalmine. But eventually you overcome hardships to become a respected educator. Could you talk about your experiences?
Answer: I had to be satisfied with only one meal a day as my family lived in poverty. While I was an elementary schoolboy, I helped get our family through poverty. After graduating from high school, I was unable to advance to college with little money. Instead, I join the military.
After completing military service, I landed in Germany. However, the coal miner’s life was tough as you might expected, One of my fellow workers died at work and some others hurt their hands. We risked our lives every day as we went down hundreds of meters underground to make ends meet.
Nevertheless, I did not lose hope and began to study German at free time. After working at the Adolf coalmine for three years (1964-67), I decided to stay in Germany at the advice of a German teacher, instead of returning home.
I was admitted into Aachen University after many twists and turns. I was the first foreign student to enter the university since its foundation. I experienced many difficulties there as I lacked knowledge of Germany. Eventually, I gained a Ph.D in education, becoming the first Korean to do so.
Q: What were your activities after returning to Korea?
A: After returning home, I served as a faculty member of Korea
National University of Education, director of Korea Institute for Youth development and head of a memorial hall for Korean miners sent to Germany. Recently, I became chairman of the nonprofit ADRF. I am very proud that I was named as chairman of the 20-year-old ADRF. I am somewhat worried if I would be able to realize the vision and philosophy of the ADRF founders. I will work harder to advance the spirit of sharing and generosity, alongside high values of donation. I will do my best to extend real relief to children and youth from marginalized families.
Q: What is the goal and vision of ADRF?
A: The ADRF was established in Korea in 1994 to extend relief to refugees torn by the Liberian war in Africa. The ADRF, a nonprofit organization, carries out school education and integrity programs for impoverished children, under its vision, “HOPE=EDUCATION.” We are trying to help them cherish hopes and receive education for their future. We would not pass poverty onto our descendants.
Q: What led you to get involved in the nonprofit foundation?
A: When I was young, I had little to eat as our family lived in grinding adversity. I was unable to advance to college after graduating from high school. When I grew up, I decided to help children from financially poor families. In 1957, a powerful typhoon devastated a large part of the country. I, as a high school student, started a campaign to raise money and collect clothes. I gathered 500 pieces and some cash and brought them to a national newspaper to be used for the victims of the disaster. I hosted a school arts festival for all students of Jonju area. I bought school supplies from raised money and donated them to students living in farming and islands.
I have actively engaged in voluntary works since I attended middle school. I taught hanguel, the national language, to impoverished students while I delivered newspapers. I also worked as leader of the Jeonbuk Area Red Cross Volunteers Club.
In Germany, I opened a hanguel school for children of Korean expatriates and offered counseling to foreign laborers. After returning to Korea, I opened a night school for children in need, while working as professor of Korea National University of Education. The special school was in Jochiwon, North Chungcheong Province. I also established an alternative school after retirement from the university. During the past 60 years, I believe I have acquired the spirit of sharing and volunteerism through a wide range of voluntary works.
ADRF translates Korean fairytale books into English
The African Asian Destitute Relief Foundation (ADRF) is strongly committed to improving the fate of poor African and Asian children. For this purpose, the nonprofit organization has carried out diverse activities including donations.
Since 2012, the ADRF has translated thousands of Korean fairytale books into English for children in Africa and Asia. The job has been done mainly by ADRF social club, “Hope Dream.” The translated fairytale books, totaling about 10,000, have been made available for education for refugee children in Africa and Asia.
Sohn Se-a, a third-grader at Gwangnam Middle School in eastern Seoul, took part in the translation job in 2015 along with several friends. She recalled that “it was a great experience. We started the translation work, helped by our father who is an English teacher. I hope that the translation of fairytale books will be a great help to all people wanting to improve their English, as well as poor refugee children in Africa and Asia.”
Over 1,400 students including high school and college students have volunteered time and effort for the activity of Hope Dream
ADRF, a non-profit organization, was established in 1994 in Korea for the purpose of providing relief work for refugees torn by civil strife in Liberia, Africa. Now, the relief efforts have extended to a total of 11 African and Asian countries. These countries include Liberia, Senegal, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Nepal, Laos, the Philippines, and Cambodia. “We are working to help children who are denied school education through our education assistance programs,” says an ADRF staff. He said ADRF carries out diverse programs in those countries.
ADRF is also committed to improving the welfare of poor families overseas. In August 2016, a group of 13 middle school students living in Seoul visited a Nepal village devastated by a powerful earthquake. The students of Munhyeon Middle School observed the destruction and comforted the villagers who were in pain. Returning to Seoul, they initiated a donation campaign to raise money for the troubled Nepalese families. They eventually donated 50 goats and daily-living items to the Nepalese village.
ADRF also offers scholarships to talented students wanting to gain admission to Korean colleges and universities. Nearly 100 students from Africa and Asia have completed studies at domestic colleges with assistance from ADRF. They are now engaged in various activities in their respective countries to push ahead with the development of their fatherlands.
Hope Dream now seeks to recruit new volunteers wanting to translate Korean fairytale books into English. Eligible for the translation work are secondary and college students who show passion for the voluntary efforts. The foundation wants to hire 300 to 500 student volunteers who are willing to be committed to the voluntary works for at least one year.
ADRF says that passionate students are always welcomed to Hope Dream for the work of translating fairytale books even though their English is somewhat unsatisfactory. “Voluntary activities will be greatly helpful for students wanting to get admitted to colleges as schools give priority to those who are committed to voluntary works,” an official of the Foundation said.