Friday, October 3, 2008

Seoul, Day 3: Visiting Korean Deaf Women

Today, Bridget and I met our KSL/ASL interpreter Kyunghee (Lydia) Ko at Gangnam Station to catch a bus out to the Seoul Association of the Deaf and its Women's Division. Riding the bus, we passed by Namsan Mountain and the American military base, as well as the Korean War Memorial. We saw the blue arch leading into Itaewon, the district of Seoul that tends to cater to American/foreign tastes, where most signs have English translation.

On arrival at the Seoul Association of the Deaf, we went to its second floor offices and were met with about ten people packing the crowded space, including the women from the Women's Division. Bridget and I have learned to say hello in KSL and after exchanging greetings and being seated with the women, we were suddenly shifted over into the Association's director's office. The president and vice president of the Women's Division joined us.

We launched into a discussion of the Association's function, and it turns out that its structure is different from, say, the Illinois Association of the Deaf. For example, the Association itself certifies interpreters, and of about 1000 who apply every time the test is offered, only about 70 make it to certification. The test costs about $20. The Seoul Association alone has 17 offices where Deaf people can come for assistance, community and advocacy. They employ about three hearing people to every Deaf employee.

The Association also receives government funding to provide case managment to Deaf Koreans, and the government also funds an entire building, the Social Workers Building, devoted to Deaf services. Aside from social work, these services include a studio for the recording of video logs on topics of interest to the Deaf community, which you can find here at this link. Click on the photos to see the vlogs in KSL. The Deaf in Korea do have videophones but appear to lack a relay system as we know it in the US. They do however have interpreters they can call at night for emergencies.

Here is a photo of two workers at the Association, myself, Bridget, Kyunghee and Director Park:

Posing for a group photo at the Social Workers building of the Seoul Association of the Deaf

South Korea is also home to the Reverend Min-seo Park, who is the first Deaf person ever ordained as a Catholic priest in Asia (read about him here).

The Women's Division was very insistent however that we spend time together, so Bridget and I went to lunch with them, where we discussed the function of the Women's Division, which focuses on spreading information of interest to Deaf women in Seoul. We also spent some time learning a little of each other's sign languages, and they were also very curious about FRIDA. And, they informed me that there is a Korean Deaf Women's Association, whose base is in Georgia. Here is a picture of Bridget and I with the Women's Division in front of the restaurant where we ate lunch:

Posing for a group photo with members of the Women's Division of the Seoul Association of the Deaf

We are finding Korean food, by the way, to be very good and very generous. This was a sit down on the floor restaurant (which made me rue my choice of a dress!), and we had things such as a hot rice soup, some new vegetables we did not know, and other items. We are improving in our use of Korean chopsticks! We appreciate eating and learning about different foods from our hosts. Bogjoo mentioned the other day that American food was really big, but here in Seoul, restaurants serve you ten little side dishes with every main meal, so I think Korean cuisine can be equally as generous and we are certainly getting very full at every meal!

It seems to me that the Women's Division, because it is under the auspices of the overall Seoul Deaf Association, is more of a representation group than a group that has 100% control over its own activities. I was very pleased to meet with this group of women because they function differently than the other women's groups so far, and I am especially pleased to see these women take women's representation very seriously. As in the US, our Deaf sisters seem to have a close bond with one another (but also remember that sharing and community is very important in Korean culture anyway).

After leaving the Women's Division with many smiles and KSL/ASL goodbyes, Bridget, Kyunghee and I rode over to the Deaf Women's Association for a meeting with its director, Mrs. Tae-soon Cho. Although Mrs. Cho, as she willingly admits, is in the senior citizen age range, within two minutes she impressed us as one of the most vital and dynamic people we've ever met. Mrs. Cho is late deafened and her organization focuses particularly on the development of young Deaf women. Here is a picture of us with Mrs. Cho (in teal next to me) and some of the Deaf women at the DWA:

Group Photo at the DWA

Mrs. Cho is a firm believer in Deaf women being able to do anything they want, and also in the leadership development of young Deaf women. (By the way, in every office we have visited, people seem to really have a strong work ethic...perhaps it is because Bridget and I are visitors, but anyone at a desk appeared to be working really hard!) Her office had a community space feel and Mrs. Cho was incredibly gracious. Focusing on education right now is important because many Deaf do not get the education they need, so they can get jobs. She is working to build awareness about this issue, but she (as well as the Seoul Association of the Deaf director) felt that it was hard to work with disability groups much because of communication barriers. Incidentally, as in the US, there aren't enough interpreters to serve Korean Deaf needs.

Several of the women at DWA will attend the Disabled Women's Conference on Monday at the Seoul Olympic Parktel, which we will also visit.

Here is a video of Mrs. Cho joining in a KSL sign song practice with the young women at DWA:

After departing DWA, Bridget and I spent some time with Kyunghee, eating such Korean tasty things as these fried pastries with sweet black bean filling, in the shape of fish:

Photo of three fish pastries, with two kissing each other lip to lip

Kyunghee also filled us in on the national picture of Deaf advocacy in South Korea. It turns out that the director for the Korean National Association of the Deaf is a well-known demonstrator who has used demonstrations many times to fight for the rights of Deaf people in Korea. For example, once ten men demonstrated in public by taking off all their clothes except for the briefs in order to bring attention to an issue they wanted resolved. This seems like it would be pretty shocking here, because everyone dresses modestly for the most part. I believe they won the issue they were fighting for, but someone, I forget who---I think maybe Mrs. Cho---mentioned that Deaf women are reluctant to get involved with demonstrations...because it is "men's work"! If this is the case, I certainly hope that Mrs. Cho can help develop leaders willing to do what it takes to get support for Deaf women and girls. And, I hope that the Women's Division will continue to recruit more members and make the opinions of Deaf women in Seoul heard by the Deaf men!


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