Redefining meaning of family

Redefining meaning of family
The family, consisting of ten North Korean defectors and their uncle Kim Tae-hoon (second from right), eats jajangmyeon for lunch.

For Kim Tae-hoon, a 38-year-old man who takes care of ten North Korean defectors like a mother, the meaning of family goes far beyond blood ties.

Little had he imagined that he would have a family like that until 2006, when he met Ha-ryong at Hanawon, a resettlement centre for North Korean defectors located outside of Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, where he served as a volunteer.

Ha-ryong, 10-years-old back then, asked Kim when he was packing his belongings to go home after spending a night with him at Hanawon, "Are you going to go home?"

Kim glanced at Ha-ryong for a second and answered, "No, I am not, I will be back with some clothes." That was the beginning of eight years of living together with North Korean defectors as a family.

Starting with Ha-ryong, Kim started to accept other North Korean kids who didn't have places to go after three months of reeducation at Hanawon, quickly becoming the "mother" of ten kids.

Even today, Kim is not sure what made him say those words to Ha-ryong, but he knew it was something he wanted to do.

The documentary "Our Family," directed by Kim Do-hyun, tells the story of this unique family of 11, who eat, bicker, laugh, travel and live together.

"They are just a simple, normal family," said the director during a recent press screening of the film.

"When I see some films on North Korea, they are oftentimes very provocative and only shed light on the hard life of the people. But, I just wanted to show that there are many North Korean people who live a happy and ordinary life, just like us."

In this big family, a box of 40 packages of instant noodles lasts for just two days. They consume 20 kilograms of rice every month, and their washing machine goes through piles of clothes every day.

The kids may have first arrived in Korea with a mere dream of freedom. But as they adapt to South Korea, thanks to the love and support of their new family, their dreams grow bigger and more concrete.

Won-il, 18, wants to become like his uncle and manage the group-home in the future. "I came to realise my uncle's efforts and love brought us all together and I want to continue to do that," said Won-il in the documentary.

Ha-ryong, 18, likes drawing. He has volunteered teaching children how to draw for the past two years, for which he received a national award. He wants to continue to teach art to kids.

Jin-cheol, 19, wants to study agriculture and become a farmer to produce food for people.

Jin-buhm, 16, has become the first North Korean to be elected as the student council president in his middle school.

As the kids have grown over the years, Kim Tae-hoon has hatched some new plans for them.

"A few years ago, I was just satisfied living with the kids," said Kim. "But after the family trip to volunteer in Thailand, family art exhibition and seeing the kids mature, I had to grow up as well. Now I am planning to build a social enterprise that can provide jobs and work for North Korean defectors so that they can stand on their own two feet and at the same time help the regional economy.

"Through this documentary, we just want to raise awareness about defectors, not money," said Kim. "I want people to see us as a different yet ordinary family."

A heartwarming documentary, "Our Family," which brings tears and laughter, is in theatres now.

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