How Pinays are helping kids of North Korean defectors

by Cathy Rose A. Garcia,

Posted at Mar 29 2014 08:16 AM | Updated as of Mar 30 2014 04:35 AM

Rep. Jasmine Lee interacts with North Korean students at the Kumkang School in Guro, Seoul. Photo by Karl Garcia

MANILA, Philippines - After the success of their fundraising drive for Filipino fishermen affected by super typhoon "Yolanda", a group of Filipino women in South Korea is giving back to the Korean community as a show of gratitude.

The 601 Habit, composed of 13 Filipino women, recently started a "Give-Back Project", this time extending their help to the children of North Korean defectors in Seoul, South Korea.

The group had earlier raised funds from Koreans and the foreign community in Seoul to build and donate 116 boats for Filipino fishermen, who lost their homes and livelihood due to "Yolanda" last November.

"The 601 Habit had been overwhelmed with the response from Korea and the Koreans (and of course fellow Filipinos and other nationalities) when the group launched its first project, The Life Boat Project, November of last year. The group is also very pleased with the response for its next project, Hands-On Philippines. Thus, just a few months after its organization, the ladies behind The 601 Habit would like to give-back to show our deepest appreciation," the group said on its Facebook page.

The 601 Habit, a group of Filipino women, organized a fun afternoon of games for North Korean children at the Kumkang School in Seoul. Photo by Karl Garcia

For the "give back" project, The 601 Habit chose to reach out to the children of North Korean defectors, who have gone through hardships.

"We are one with the South Korean government in supporting these children. In the little ways that we know and what our group is capable of, we have committed to sponsor every 4th Saturday of the month to feed the children, spend time with them and develop programs that may eventually and hopefully have a positive impact in their young lives," the group said.

In an interview, Rina Arinas-Imm, a project manager for The 601 Habit's Give Back project, said they have organized a once-a-month activity for the North Korean children who are now students at the Kumkang School.

Located in Gaebong, Guro in Seoul, The Kumkang School was established to prepare the children for life in South Korea. At present the school has 24 students, aged 6-17.

"I talked to the principal what we could help them with. She said there are other volunteer groups who visit every Saturday, prepare lunch and play with the kids from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m... The 601 Habit decided to organize an activity for them every 4th Saturday of the month for this year," Arinas-Imm said.

For its first activity last March 22, Filipina actress and The 601 Habit member Cherish Maningat prepared fun games for the North Korean children.

"Since it was the first time, we decided on a getting to know you theme... We had team-building activities and games. The kids were cooperative and very happy with the activity," Arinas-Imm said.

The 601 Habit's activity was done in cooperation with Korean conglomerate CJ Group's Welfare Foundation. The CJ Welfare Foundation provided packed lunch boxes and snacks for the activity.

The event was attended by Rep. Jasmine Lee, CJ Welfare Foundation senior vice president Jung-hyun Kwon, CJ CSV specialist Hyun-jin Kim and a team from CJ Welfare Foundation.

In an interview, Kwon said it was a natural choice for CJ to support this project because it is the company's vision to "promote a culture of sharing and community service."

He had high praise for the Filipino women behind The 601 Habit.

"We also felt that beyond facing the difficulties of living in a foreign country themselves, it was both remarkable and commendable that women from the Philippines (The 601 Habit) would work so hard to support marginalized students of the Kumkang School in Korea, which is why we wanted to contribute whatever support we could," Kwon said.

Meanwhile, The 601 Habit is already preparing for next month's program. They're planning to have different activities, such as photography lessons, drama classes, film showing and English classes.

"The group is very happy with the warm welcome we got from the kids. We are looking forward to see those eager faces every month and spend quality time with them even for just a few hours. The 601 Habit hopes to continue giving-back to Korea in whatever way we can for the generous help they have given us," Arinas-Imm said.