Former nurse in Germany now lives to give

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Kim Joo-ki, who worked as a nurse’s assistant in Germany, has donated 30,000 won (24.70 dollars) every month for the past nine years. [KIM SEONG-TAE]
Kim Joo-ki, who worked as a nurse’s assistant in Germany, has donated 30,000 won (24.70 dollars) every month for the past nine years. [KIM SEONG-TAE]
Kim Joo-ki, a 66-year-old who recovered from an accident that left her totally paralyzed, lives alone in Cheonan, South Chungcheong. Her only means of support is the government’s basic living subsidy of 400,000 won ($329) a month.

But Kim sets aside 30,000 won every month to donate to different community welfare groups.

“I do it purely for my own happiness,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo, in an interview at the Dojang-ri community center in southeastern Cheonan. “In fact, I feel bad I can’t donate more to people in need.”

Kim made her first donation in December 2007 after she received some financial support from the Purme Foundation for dental treatment she needed. The non-profit organization supports people with disabilities.

She decided to donate 10,000 won to the Purme Foundation to help it start a rehabilitation hospital dedicated to people with physical disabilities.

Then she started donating a total of 30,000 won to four different groups, including the Purme Foundation and Donghang, a branch of a German group called Mitgehen, which means “accompany” in English. It offers free hospice services for immigrant workers.

There was a special reason Kim was drawn to Donghang.

She was born the third of eight children, and left Korea in 1971 to work as a nurse’s assistant in Germany to help support her family. She worked in Germany for seven years, remitting most of her salary to her family in Korea. Kim was a real-life Young-ja, the heroine of the movie “Ode to My Father,” who worked in Germany to support her family in the 1970s.

“I always volunteered for night shifts, which lasted from 8 p.m. tp 6 a.m., to make a higher hourly wage,” Kim said. “They were tough times but I was happy to be able to send money home for my family.”

Kim returned to Korea in 1978, but the happiness didn’t last for long. In 1979, she got into an accident that left her paralyzed. Doctors released her from the hospital after a couple of months, saying she was unlikely to survive.

Kim doesn’t like to talk about the accident, but admits that it was a psychologically devastating experience. “I wanted to take my own life,” she said, “and would have if I could have crawled to the Hangang Bridge.”

Prayer helped Kim survive, and her paralysis gradually eased. She can do simple physical exercises like stretches and taking a walk.

“You eventually realize that people are born with empty hands and die with empty hands,” Kim said.

“I wish more people around us can realize the joy of sharing and giving,” she said.

BY CHO HAN-DAE [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]

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