Next Steps: Planning for the future

Crossing Borders started Second Wave in September of 2004 to address the needs of children who were born to North Korean mothers and abandoned by them. This was in the wake of the Great North Korean Famine, which claimed millions of lives in North Korea and caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to spill over into China. When we started Second Wave, the average age of our children was about 5. This year the average age of the children in Second Wave entered into its teens at 13. Over the years our goal has always been to show the compassion of Christ to these children but this can take many forms. Is it enough to house them, feed them, educate them, and love them or do we need to do more?

As we look into the, now, very near future, we have set some priorities for our organization and our children. The skill we are focused on teaching these children is goal setting. We will know that we are achieving this organizational priority when more of the children in our network have clear career paths with short and mid term milestones to attain them.

This summer a team from the US traveled to Northeast China to address the spiritual and emotional needs of our children in a summer camp program, which lasted about a week. At this camp we had our first ever career seminar.

We had each of our children list their interests and talents and we had them map these on a matrix. From this matrix we were able to tell our children what types of jobs they were best suited for. Our intention was not to lock them into a specific career path but rather to get them thinking about what they might want to do when they finish their education.

We also had a seminar on how to set long term goals and then set short term goals on how to reach these long term goals. This winter we will host another seminar for these children where they will set a long term career goal for themselves and set smaller milestones on how to reach these goals. But, we are not under the delusion that this is our most important task. Most of us are parents and we know better.

Parenting is a grind. It is a selfless task that bears fruit -- good or bad -- decades later. As we raise these children, it is not our ultimate goal to have all of the children in our network employed by a certain date. It is also not our goal to only love them and nurture them for now. Raising children is challenging because parents have to think of both now and decades later.

What good is preparing someone for a good job if they lack character? How empty is a life filled with money and security if it lacks love?

Each day we carry our work forward with this in mind, asking God for grace for the things we might overlook.

Raising North Korean Orphans - Planning for the Future

"Byung Wook" was at home when his mother was dragged away by the police. He said he heard the police raid the home but was too afraid to come out of his room. When he came out the next morning, his mother was gone and his father was sitting on the floor in shock. This is how Byung Wook became a North Korean orphan. Byung Wook came to one of our group homes in 2009 and has struggled academically more than any other child in our network. His performance in school was so bad that his teachers refused to give him any tests to prevent him from bringing down the class average. They put little effort to bring Byung Wook up to speed in his studies and he spends most of his time in class sleeping.

Such is the challenge of raising an academically challenged child in China, where opportunities are harder to come by and it is harder to catch up if a child is behind.

Last year Crossing Borders received sobering results from the surveys we administered. One of the biggest things we learned was that our North Korean orphans are ill prepared for the future. Just 20 percent of our children have a realistic career plan with short, mid and long-term steps on how they will reach these goals.

This is something we can help with.

As our North Korean orphans grow into maturity, it is vital that we equip them with the tools they need to be self-sufficient. The average age of our children is now 12.5-years-old.

Thinking about career paths poses a challenge for our field staff, most of whom have been raised in a rural environment. It is difficult for them to see the importance of getting the right training to suit the type of career each child wants.

China is rapidly changing. Over the past 30 years the economy has shifted from a mostly agrarian economy to one that is highly industrialized. This means that the old way of obtaining and finding employment has been upended. Our workers need to be able to adjust so that our children can find meaningful employment and even be a benefit to the community at large.

It is also difficult for them to think about such things as they deal with the daily needs of the children. This is why we feel that it is vital for us to educate our caretakers and give them practical tools to help each child become productive members of society.

By the end of this year, we want to work with each child age 14 and older to have a clear and attainable career path. We will also work with their caretakers to make sure these plans are practical in the context in which each of these children live.

This is why we believe that it is necessary to deal with the challenges North Korean orphans face from an organizational standpoint. While our caretakers provide a stable, loving and nurturing environment for each child, Crossing Borders can come alongside these caretakers to provide additional help.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It is a unique “village” that Crossing Borders has created. We connect donors from around the world with experts both in the U.S. and around the world to provide the love and care that each of these children need.

You can be a part of this community of help by sponsoring a child. Through our Child Sponsorship Program, you can donate $40 or $80 per month to provide for the needs of children in our network. Find out more here.

Raising North Korean Orphans - Technology

It was an abrupt ending to what was a wonderful time with our North Korean orphan, "Jae Hwa". One evening about two years ago, a child in one of our group homes said she was leaving for a boarding school nearby. The house fell under a muffled silence after she left, as if covered in a thick blanket. Jae Hwa had been planning this with her father for months but nobody in the home knew.

Like all the children in this home, Jae Hwa’s mother was North Korean refugee who was purchased by a Chinese man. Her mother was captured by the Chinese police and sent back to a North Korean prison camp when Jae Hwa was eight-years-old. She came into Crossing Borders’ care in 2011, when she was 13-years-old.

Jae Hwa’s father went to South Korea to find work and kept in touch with his daughter by text message via the smart phone he purchased her.

The children in this home were allowed to have smart phones for this very purpose. As time went on, these phones became a nuisance. The kids were using them to play games and to text with their friends. It became harder to hold their attention and this led to conflict as the caretakers of this home would sometimes take these phones away.

Parents around the world are grappling with how to control their children’s smartphone use and so too are the caretakers of our North Kroean orphans. Not only do they have to deal with them as distractions but they must also be wary of the way our children portray their living conditions in these homes to their parents.

Jae Hwa would tell her father that she felt trapped in her home, that her caretakers were too strict and that she was unhappy. These accounts, one must note, were filtered through the lens of a teenage girl. She didn’t report any abuse or specific incidents of wrongdoing. What drove her away was the rigid structure of the home, something teens around the world struggle with.

Teenagers are impulsive. They make poor choices. They are reckless.

In 2012, National Geographic Magazine published a fascinating study on the teenage brain. It was once thought that brains are fully developed by the age of 10, recent studies found that teenagers have brains that are about 90 percent developed. This development could be one of the reasons why teenagers are so impulsive, the study said.

“These studies help explain why teens behave with such vexing inconsistency: beguiling at breakfast, disgusting at dinner; masterful on Monday, sleepwalking on Saturday,” the writer says. “Along with lacking experience generally, they're still learning to use their brain's new networks.”’

This might explain one of the factors to what we consider a poor decision on the part of Jae Hwa.

She thought that living in a dorm would allow her to do what she wanted. She thought that she would be able to go to play games at a local PC gaming business through the night. She thought she would be able to go to parties.

She realized that this wasn’t true at all.

Her dormitory has strict rules and in some ways is even stricter than her Crossing Borders group home.

Our caretakers are adjusting now. They are now loosening the grip they once held on our North Korean orphans. They are now allowed to go to birthday parties and their schedules are less rigid but for now, smartphones are banned in this home.

Jae Hwa visits the home every weekend for church and even brings her classmates along. She looks thin. She doesn’t like the food at the dorm and it does not offer meals on the weekends.

Every weekend our caretakers take Jae Hwa grocery shopping and they cook her any meal that she wants. They tell her repeatedly that she could come back to the home but she does not. Her father will not allow it based on the testimony she once gave him.

For now, all we can offer her are some meals, prayers and an open door.