Earlier this month, a group of US Navy service members visited the Aikwangwon orphanage on Geoje Island, off the southern coast of South Korea, near Busan. Founded during the Korean War in 1952, American naval personnel have been regularly visiting the orphanage for over 60 years – essentially from the very beginning. Back then, medical staff from the nearby Chinhae US Naval Base would visit to provide check-ups for the children. Though a bridge connects Geoje to the mainland now, at the time of Aikwangwon’s founding, the island was only accessible by boat. These days, volunteers from many different branches of the Navy offer their time to interact with the children and participate in service projects that help keep the orphanage running smoothly.
Beyond playing games and singing songs with the children, the Navy volunteers often bring donated supplies such as diapers, monetary contributions, assist with the orphanage’s mushroom farm, and install or repair parts of the facilities.
Ms. Kim Im-soon founded Aikwangwon and is still there today, and speaks very highly of the contributions the sailors make. Her facility now houses over 200 physically and mentally disabled orphans, and also provides schooling for some local children on Geoje Island. While the Navy personnel are continuing a great tradition of helping the orphanage, the sailors themselves have also said that they are benefitting from the relationship through the positive experiences they have there.
The US-South Korea security alliance formally began in 1953 with the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty. Since then, US forces from all branches of the military have continuously been stationed across the country, regularly engaging in community outreach programs and providing English classes to Koreans.