Few countries have suffered as totally from the ravages of war
in modern times as Korea. Among the human casualties were nearly two million refugees who
fled from Communist rule in the north seeking greater freedom in South Korea. Subsisting
on what they could scavenge and on relief, many of these refugees were farmers and, in the
overcrowded peninsula, there was no unoccupied, arable land.
KIM HYUNG SEO, his wife and newborn daughter, during the fighting in 1951 had joined
the long trek, arriving eventually in the southwestern coastal region of Cholla Nam Do.
Though he found odd jobs, relief food still was needed to supplement his meager earnings.
Watching other less fortunate, idle refugees, he resolved to find a way for them to become
self-supporting, while relief was available. In the South Korean Government's policy of
allowing refugees to resettle on reclaimed mountain or tidal land, he saw the opportunity.
Born of a farming family on Korea's west central coast and a teacher by profession, KIM
also had learned practical engineering. Near Sachon, he discovered a suitable tide flat
and won government permission to reclaim it in cooperation with 106 families from his home
district in the north. Living chiefly on U.S. Public Law 480 grain provided through
voluntary agencies, the refugees built a sea dike over 1,464 meters long. Upon completion,
including two reservoirs, canals and a drainage gate, in December 1961, more than 106
hectares of fertile, reclaimed land were distributed among the participating families.
This first success prompted KIM to plan the much larger Daeduk Self-Support
Assimilation Project in late 1961. Largely with hand labor and pushcart railways, 5,175
men, women and children built sea dikes ranging from three to 15 meters high and nearly
two kilometers long, linking three small islands with the mainland. To irrigate some 1,000
hectares of land, they dug 48 kilometers of intake canals and 32 kilometers of drainage
canals. Freezing rain and snow slowed the work and storms eight times destroyed incomplete
dikes. Yet, neat houses, roads and wells were all complete by May 1966, when the reclaimed
land was apportioned to the 1,329 families in time for planting their first summer crop.
Fortified by these experiences and helped by the Korean Church World Service, CARE,
Catholic Welfare Service, the voluntary agency, CORSO, and the Freedom from Hunger
Campaign of New Zealand, the Eighth Army and Operations Mission of the United States, and
the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, KIM mobilized new groups of refugees and poor
farmers to reclaim other tidal land while Daeduk was underway. The largest undertaking of
KIM and his Korean Association for Development of Assimilation Projects, known as KADAP,
was completed in June 1969, when 2,770 hectares were retrieved from Haechang Bay.
Impressed with KIM's achievements, the Government, meanwhile, has turned to him to
complete other reclamation projects that had floundered.
KIM acknowledges that such large-scale construction could be accomplished faster with
heavy earthmoving equipment. In Korea, as in much of the developing world, however, the
greatest available resource is underemployed manpower. Utilizing "food for work"
with detailed engineering and selfless leadership, KIM is mustering this latent resource
for national development. For himself, he takes a modest salary as Chairman of KADAP and
accepted only a worker's share of land from the first project at Sachon. On each of the
nine other reclamation projects managed by KIM, he has donated the land to which he was
entitled by law as project leader to families of veterans and vagrants and to a school
foundation for education of the young in the new communities he has helped create.
In electing KIM HYUNG SEO to receive the 1969 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service,
the Board of Trustees recognizes his sturdy, productive leadership of fellow refugees and
other landless countrymen in reclaiming for themselves new agricultural land from the sea.