What sort of mission would a chicken have in Seoul Station? The Chicken Campaign organized by Jane Jeong Trenka's group TRACK (Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea) set up on a cold Saturday afternoon in one of the busiest subway stations in Seoul to spread a message and, according to Trenka, "make the connection between overseas adoption and unwed mothers (where) 89 percent of the children who are sent overseas for adoption are the children of unwed mothers." She attributes this to two main reasons: societal discrimination and lack of government support.
She said the idea for the campaign originated in conjunction with the group's Korean volunteer group who all said they had never heard of these issues before working with TRACK, indicating the lack of awareness in the general Korean public that has stymied progress in both areas. As part of their campaign, they handed out information about issues pertaining to both international adoption and unwed mothers.
They also displayed easels that featured famous single mothers, such as writer and Pulitzer Prize nominee Maya Angelou and prominent children of single mothers, from artist Leonardo da Vinci to TV mogul Oprah Winfrey and musician Eric Clapton.
Why a chicken on rollerblades? "Adoption agencies get babies from vulnerable women in unwed mothers' homes and send them overseas for adoption in a mass, commercialized process. We call this system a 'baby farm.' But farms are for animals, not people," Trenka explained.
Cody Winter, an adoptee from Seattle who was a professional skater, donned the chicken suit and skates to create attention for the issue. Winter has lived in Korea for 13 years and said the reaction from the public was "quite positive."
In a twist of kismet, other large Korean progressive groups also hosted a rally for "People's Day" in the large area in front of Seoul Station, bringing hundreds more people through the station that day than the group had originally envisioned. Trenka said that the progressive groups' agendas, who also emphasize social welfare spending over that of development projects such as the current Four Rivers Project, are the same as TRACK's and she hopes that these groups will eventually realize that groups like hers also belong in the landscape of progressive Korean organizations. Adoptee groups, she says are often dismissed as foreign groups although "the circumstances that made us overseas adoptees are nothing but Korean domestic issues."
While the progressive organizations have yet to acknowledge the group, TRACK is beginning to get more and more attention from individual Korean volunteers, indicating a shift of the issues from merely an "adoptee issue" or an "unwed mothers' issue," to an issue that affects Korean society as a whole. The collaboration of adoptees, international residents, and Korean nationals who were involved in the campaign also signals a cooperative spirit towards multiculturalism, in a society now eager to create such an environment.
Ahn Woo-jin, a Korean volunteer who wore the other chicken suit -- there were two chickens for the day -- said that after learning about these issues, he feels that "although it's hard to change our society, we have to do this." He admitted that before volunteering with TRACK, he also had a prejudice against single mothers due to a negative stereotype that is pervasive in Korean society. In the end, he said, "our society has to give them a chance to raise their babies."
Volunteer Jo, Sung-woo echoed Ahn's sentiment saying that before volunteering with TRACK he "really had no interest in adoption and didn't know there were so many single mothers in Korea." He admitted sheepishly that he had originally signed up for an opportunity to speak English. Through his TRACK experience, however, he came to realize just how many single mothers there are in Korea. Jo, now one of the most active volunteers of the group, said that he now believes it's an important issue that needs government attention and policies to bring about positive change.
Another Korean volunteer, Kim Min-jung, got involved with TRACK after seeing the group featured on a TV program. She said that before seeing the program, she "wasn't aware of the current reality of adoption" and had previously thought of adoption agencies such as Holt as "non-profit organizations, generally associated with love and goodness" but realized the true reality of adoption and single mothers after seeing the show and was moved to volunteer.
She brought along her daughter, 8-year-old Lim Hye-jin, the youngest volunteer of the day. She said she "came with her mother to spread information about adoption" and that the day had been "fun but hard," a positive attitude that symbolized hope for change in future generations.
For questions about the information in this article, or for general inquiries about life in Seoul, please contact the Seoul Global Center's hotline at (02) 1688-0120 or visit our website http://global.seoul.go.kr
By Shannon Heit