Seongnam, South Korea, more than a million inhabitants on the southeastern outskirts of Seoul, is a growing city with the presence of large companies that further the economic development of the area in a city where there is great wealth alongside abject poverty.
“In Korea there is a strong immigration of women from several Asian countries: China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, and more. They come here to marry or to escape from misery. Hence, the many multi-cultural families, most of them living in the poor areas of our city,” explains a Focolare group from Korea who were attending the OnCity international conference in Castelgandolfo, Italy. One of their greatest needs is integration.
In the Multicultural Centre where some of the Focolare members work, they teach women immigrants to speak Korean, and have proposed establishing some kind of child care programme to entertain the children while their mothers learn the new language. “But at one point the government funding was removed and we couldn’t continue with our activity,” they say. “We told some friends who share our commitment in living ideals of unity and peace in our city. Each one of them gave what they could: time, skills – taking on the problems and situations of many people.”
They were faced with truly painful situations: settling in a new country is not easy. For many, the Centre was a place where they could catch their breath, a place where they could share one another’s problems, especially financial problems.
In 2012 we opened a small market where you could buy what you needed at a low cost. We called this small temporary project: The Mary of Nazareth Project. Many people helped us by donating clothing, toys, office supplies and linens.”
What could be done with the small sum of around 353 Euros? “We decided to follow the Economy of Communion approach of distributing the profits: 1/3 for a family (a Cambodian family that our community had taken into its care until they could stand on their own); 1/3 to buy any additional things they might need; 1/3 for everyone in the group (to celebrate the birthdays of immigrants who didn’t have families with them).
Finally, the Maria Market recived a donation from the government and the Centre decided to remodel the shop. But it was only reopened in 2014 after much expectation. The following year, they received a visit from the Mayor.
In June 2015, with the spread of Mers in Korea, 2,900 schools were closed and 4,000 people were placed in isolation. Like many public locations the Centre also had to close. However, during the period of the shut-down, “we visited people in their homes and supported them in the little things. In the end, the Centre gave us a “Thank You” plaque.
Now Maria Market is open again and always developing new ideas like mail delivery service for long distance customers. For the group running the project it continues to be “a concrete experience of answering the needs of our neediest sisters and brothers.”