When South Korea's effective
modernization began a quarter of a century ago, it was geared to a
manufacturing for export drive that stunned the trading world with efficient
production of low cost goods. Disciplined laborers working harder, often for
less, than anyone else in East Asia, were a key to this success. Unlike in
Japan and Taiwan, where after World War II rural progress came first, in
Korea villages felt the sweeping winds of change only a decade later. Hence
seekers for employment and opportunity flocked to the cities, making Seoul
one of Asia's dozen largest cities and inevitably creating massive slums
where social services lagged behind the need.
Life in a slum, though devoid of most amenities, still allows a
sense of family warmth and home. Networks of relatives and co-workers
cushion harsh outer realities. Now even this make-do haven is threatened by
booming urban land values and both public and private redevelopment schemes
that mean misery to evicted slum dwellers.
Thirteen years ago, Jesuit JOHN VINCENT DALY, a Sogang University philosophy
professor, decided to learn how the poor viewed life by moving into Cheong
Kyei Cheon, a Seoul slum. There he met PAUL JEONG-GU JEI, recently expelled
from Seoul National University for leading demonstrations. Their first
partnership in community concern lasted less than a year. JEI, after
readmission to the university, was soon jailed for 11 months for
antigovernment activities. Not long after he was released he and DALY
decided to open a community center in two rented rooms in Yahng Pyeong Dong
slum. Convinced that outside problem solvers tend to impose their
perceptions, the two sought to be catalysts fostering community-determined
Three years later Yahng Pyeong Dong was classified for redevelopment. Little
compensation or concern for their rehousing was vouchsafed the residents.
Fifteen families approached DALY and JEI for help.
With US$100,000 from MISEREOR, the German Catholic Social Aid Fund, and
other monies from abroad, the two were able to purchase a small plot of land
12 kilometers southeast of Seoul only days before the eviction was to be
carried out. DALY, JEI, and the committee of slumdwellers which they had
helped create, expected fewer but finally accepted 170 families. In May 1977
all but 20 of the families moved into tents on the new site and joined in
building the village of Bogum Jahri, the Place of Happiness. With three
skilled members as construction supervisors, and enthused by
interdenominational prayer, the newcomers completed construction of the
buildings by November 1977, and the sewage system for the 170 houses was
finished by the onset of winter cold in December.
From such beginnings emerged a practical system for building housing at the
equivalent of US$166 per pysong, or 3.3 square meters, largely with
self-made construction materials which are one-third the cost of commercial
materials. The second village was Han Dok and the third MokWha. A community
center was constructed within walking distance of all three.
DALY, who was born in Philo, Illinois 51 years ago, has made South Korea his
home for 26 years. Both he and his partner,JEI, who was born in 1944 in
South Kyong-sang province, have become participants in the daily struggles
of the homeless poor. They have established the Korean Catholic Research
Institute of the Urban Poor to aid slum dwellers in learning their legal
rights and correcting injustices such as unwarranted or unrecompensed
evictions. The two are also attempting to prove that a rich cultural
heritage can be retained and enhanced by the most disadvantaged, provided
there is effective community organization and local leadership.
In electing Father JOHN VINCENT DALY and PAUL JEONG-GU JEI to receive the
1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees
recognizes their education and guidance of the urban poor to create
vigorous, humanly sound satellite communities.