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Answering a call to serve


Ms Moonju Kim at home with friends. . . Moonju Kim forsook the affluence of South

Korea to assist vulnerable communities

Brian Chiwanza

FOR South Korean humanitarian, Moonju Kim, the 12 000km journey to the Lesotho was an answer to a persistent inner call to serve others beyond her immediate vicinity.

Hailing from South Korea’s second largest city, Busan, Ms Kim was raised in a lavishly wealthy family, and was expected to take over the family business at some stage.

However, the 28-year old told the Sunday Express, in an interview this past week, that fulfilment was still lacking in her life despite the material wealth she grew up in.

“I was raised in a wealthy family with vast business interests, but with time I realised that money was not everything,” Ms Kim said.

“Money couldn’t bring me the happiness I needed because I saw that many people had money, but were still unhappy.

“I had to take time to think about my life. My biggest question was, what could I do to make a difference with my talents? And using my skills to help other people achieve their dreams brought me the greatest satisfaction.”

Upon completing her Advertising and Public Relations degree in August 2010, at Hongik University in Seoul, Ms Kim resolved to leave South Korea for Africa.

“It wasn’t easy but I had made up my mind,” she recalled.

The decision did not go down well with Ms Kim’s parents, who had other ideas for their daughter.

“My parents were against the idea of me coming to Africa, and worse still, the little known Lesotho,” she said.

Eventually, her father relented to her daughter’s determination to do humanitarian work in Lesotho.

“Today, my father is the greatest supporter of my endeavors,” said Ms Kim who is the first born in a family of two.

After finally getting the consent of her father, she signed a contract to participate in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Bridge Africa Programme through the Korean National Commission for UNESCO.

The Bridge Africa Programme is a public private partnership project meant to assist in combating illiteracy and driving community-driven development in Africa.

As one of the volunteers dispatched to the six sub-Saharan African countries covered by the programme, which include Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, she had to make a prompt choice.

“I liked hiking and I was fascinated by the mountains, so Lesotho was the perfect place for me,” said Ms Kim.

“I also didn’t want a country with too many South Koreans, as I knew there were already many in SA and Zimbabwe. I wanted to explore and discover life on my own and not simply hang out in a foreign land with other Korean nationals.”

Her arrival in the Mountain Kingdom was not plain sailing, as she had to endure her fair share of trials and tribulations, among which was racial discrimination.

“It hurts me when people stereotype me according to the colour of my skin. When people see me they think I am Chinese, but I am not,” Ms Kim said.

“People usually have a negative view about me at first glance, but after I reply in Sesotho, their perception changes.”

And five years later, she can fluently speak Sesotho and has become a bridge between South Korea and her adopted land.

Ms Kim’s first port of call upon her arrival was in Liphiring, Mohale’s Hoek where she made use of her advertising and public relations skills to initiate a community newspaper in 2011 with students from Maletsema High School.

She also mobilised women in Liphiring to manufacture Aloe Vaseline through the Women Empowerment Project.

As KNCU’s project manager, Ms Kim has also supervised the setting up of three community learning centres in Liphiring, Ha-Motsu and Ha-Teko. The multi-purpose facilities can be used as libraries, for extra lessons, literacy education and as a community meeting point.

Popularly known as “Lineo”, her passion to make a difference has not waned five years on.

The Thetsane-based Ms Kim, however lamented the scourge of “loose morals” among youths which she said was eroding their potential to make it in life.

“I wish to see young people, especially girls, doing something for themselves and their families by developing their skills,” she said.

“In the western world, youths visit museums, movie houses and parks for recreation, but here it is different. It is heartbreaking to see all the potential among the youths being wasted on sex and the abuse of alcohol and drugs at a tender age.”

Ms Kim, however, said she harboured no regret for choosing Lesotho.

“Ever since I came here, I have been amazed by the pride Basotho have in their culture. They respect their culture and do their utmost to ensure it is transferred to future generations,” she said.

“Many countries today have had their cultures diluted by western influences, but it’s different in Lesotho, especially in the rural areas where they take pride in who they are.”

Ms Kim said she was not about to leave Lesotho any time soon, vowing to stay the course on projects she has initiated.

“Given the chance, I intend to follow through on the projects we started in the communities, and see them bear fruit and transform people’s lives.”

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