Happy Together Multicultural Families (HT)
Daegu Metropolitan City, Women, Youth & Family Affairs Division

The Problem

For 5,000 years Korea has been known as a “unitary race.” Korean women and children left to form multicultural families abroad, yet the homeland remained largely unchanged. In the 1990s this pattern shifted as older and socio-economically disadvantaged men began seeking foreign brides. By the year 2000 roughly 3.5% of all marriages in Korea included a foreign spouse. The social infrastructure was unprepared for the impacts caused by these new “multicultural families.” This was only the beginning.

Over 10% of all domestic marriages in Korea now include a foreign spouse. Most of these marriages involve rural, older, previously-married, physically- or emotionally disabled, or lower-income Korean men as young Korean women increasing shun such partners and choose to remain unmarried. Chinese and Vietnamese women from rural areas are the most common immigrant brides, followed by women from other under-developed Southeast Asian lands. Marriage brokers arrange quick “marriage tours” to the bride’s home countries, these, along with mail-order brides, are the usual sources for foreign brides. While the men see these “exotic” brides as a substitute for the traditional spouse, the women often expect to send money from “rich Korea” to support impoverished siblings in their home country. The age gap between spouses is often 15-20 years. Children of previous marriages add to the risk of marital breakdown, as well as the difficulty for the immigrant spouses to adapt to new circumstances due to limited language skills and education. As a result, nearly 40% of all divorces in Korea include a foreign spouse.

In a new land where education is highly valued, the immigrant spouses lack Korean language skills, and many are significantly under-educated. They are often unable to contribute financially to their financially-challenged households through employment. These women lack the ability to help children in school studies, which can lead to second-generation issues in education as well.

Korea’s pride in a “pure-blood” heritage has led to frequent discrimination against immigrant spouses and their children. Although national and local governments have made statements and initiated program supporting a new multicultural Korea, the situation on the ground has seen little improvement. Much of the focus has been on assimilation rather than acceptance of diversity. Domestic violence is a significant issue in multicultural households. Children end their education prematurely due to persecution by other children in schools, or teachers’ disdain.

Increasing immigration to Korea, along with growing numbers of international marriages, indicate that homogeneous Korea is a thing of the past. The low birth rate overall in Korea, combined with the relatively higher birth-rate in multicultural families, suggest ongoing social change. It has been projected that by the year 2020 one of five children in Korea will come from multicultural families. Expecting immigrant women and children to overcome millennia of bias without a support system is unrealistic. The ethnic violence of so-called monocultural France in 2005 was proof that failure to address the question early could lead to major consequences.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Long-term solutions demonstrate few short-term solutions. Maintaining happiness is difficult to quantify, divorces that do not occur are incalculable. Immigrant women tell stories of “better understanding her husband.” Families are not concentrated in pockets (ghettos) but isolated within the greater community. This is arguably a good thing, but it creates difficulties in providing services. 3,161 of the 5,900 women and children of multicultural families living in Daegu have taken advantage of the services of the Multicultural Family Centers.

Immigrant women are enrolled in language studies at local Multicultural Family Centers. Women have completed licenses or obtained formal qualifications through these courses in areas such as Baker, Korean Foods Chef, Childcare, and language teaching. 51 women have obtained jobs or created businesses as a result of their participation in Multicultural Family Centers training and support programs. Classes are available in Korean language, various vocational fields, Korean culture and traditions, Korean driving license test preparations, language teacher and interpreter training, Korean cooking, and computer skills. Korean husbands of immigrant women, too, participate in self-help discussion groups. Free child-care is available while parents participate in Multicultural Family Center programs.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
In 2006 the Korean national government’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family established the initial multicultural family centers program through funding in local governments. As time passed, Mr. Kang Koo Park of the City of Daegu saw the need to reach beyond the initial limited aims of these programs, which largely focused on Korean language and etiquette education. During the spring of 2009 he held discussions in a series of meetings with various individual members of multicultural families, and determined that a more holistic approach involving resources from diverse agencies and other organizations would be most appropriate, and set about encouraging other public and private organizations to work towards this aim.

Daegu Metropolitan City Office of Women, Families, and Children opened the “Happy Together” project to serve both multicultural families and wider Korean society, all of whom benefit from high quality homelife. Services have grown as the greater community becomes more aware of the issues and needs of these special families, and new resources become available.

Universities such as Daegu National University of Education and Kyungpook National University were early partners of the program by including their student practicum programs with the Korean studies courses. Other universities, such as Keimyung University and Daegu Catholic University, donated facilities space, staff, and student volunteers to operate Multicultural Family Centers.

Stakeholders are more than the multicultural families themselves, but a social target to maintain healthy family bonds throughout the community.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
Immigrant support centers have a long history world-wide. These have generally been funded by governments or private social agencies who addressed the initial “resettlement” issues of immigrant groups, who mostly settled into urban “ghettos.” Such strategies are less effective when immigrants are spouses immediately immersed into pre-existing social strata, residing far from peers.

The “Happy Together” project aims to successfully integrate the 1.2% of current Korean society considered “multicultural” with the remainder through public-public and public-private partnerships. Although it is not unusual in unitary national governments such as Korea for central government agencies to direct and fund activities within various agencies and bureaus at the local level, it is far different when local agencies are able to coordinate the activities are various national and local actors, such as two different local national universities which operate independently, as well as two nationwide national schools, plus the national Ministry of Gender Affairs and Family, as well as private benefactors and city funds. This was accomplished by identifying key needed services and associating the necessary elements with potential providers, rather than simply asking for more cash.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The genesis of the “Happy Together” project was the national government’s multicultural family support centers project in 2006. The services available made the needs areas all the more obvious, so Mr. Park and others working at the centers set about finding new resources.

In 2009 it was found that Lina Korea was interested in making a sizable donation to support multicultural families in Daegu. Mr. Park set about developing a partnership that met the needs of both Lina Korea and the multicultural families. Lina Korea (a Cigna Life Insurance company) initiated funding of the program through the United Community Chest of Korea with a 60 million won grant for vocational services, and followed that with a 100 million won grant. Enrolments in the new classes began in 2009

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
An early challenge was convincing Korean husbands and mothers (the immigrant woman’s mother-in-law) that the multicultural family center services would be an asset to their family. Particularly in the case of poor households, the woman may be an indirect income source, such as through farmwork. In other families, the husband might be unaware of the problems faced by the wife, or believe that she should overcome these by herself. Transportation to the centers was also a concern, but the availability of transport reimbursement helped address this issue.

Unemployment is a major issue across the Korean society, particularly among young college graduates. While education is a major goal of the “Happy Together” project, sustainable economic self-support for these families is a priority, and therefore developing employment opportunities requires considering areas outside of the mainstream. The Bakery training project has resulted in both traditional jobs and new start-up bakeries. Graduates of language training courses have become interpreters and classroom instructors.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The “Happy Together” project is a Public-Public-Private partnership which specializes in the coordination of diverse resources, and as resources change in the future, the project too will change. The original multicultural family support centers were founded in 2006 and 2007 with national support from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, and those funds still provide the underlying foundation for some services. Two of the seven facilities are provided by private universities. Student volunteers come from private and public universities. Private support has been invaluable both for major services and the “little things” that make services meaningful. Lina-Korea, a life insurance business in Korea, provided the initial two years funding for vocational programs. Daegu Bank and other regional businesses and their volunteer/support groups have provided financial and non-financial resources to assist in meeting the practical needs of immigrant women and their families. City finances fill in gaps. Additionally, the Korea National Open University has provided 100 scholarships for multicultural family women in Daegu, and 20 scholarships to Korea National Open High School have been provided by the Daegu Office of Education (an independent organization not tied to the city).

The Ministry of Law operates thirty four centers for multicultural families nationwide(Korean Immigration and Integration Program), with one in Daegu: close ties with that facility as part of the ongoing development of the “Happy Together” project are expected to occur soon.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Happy Together draws upon the strengths of programs that have existed for years in other immigrant lands, but recognizes the special characteristics of traditionally monocultural communities facing the phenomenon of immigrant spouses. Elements of the program requiring cash face sustainability challenges, but where the national government has recognized the need and pledges ongoing support, such as for scholarships, we believe this is sustainable. The city has made a financial commitment to assisting these new residents. Universities find good volunteer arrangements a win-win situation, so this too is sustainable. Self-help groups require little support beyond facilities space already available. In November 2011 the national government announced a program for free job training for immigrants married to Korean spouses. This is will result in some changes in how things have been done, but sustainable does not imply “always the same.”

Other local governments in Korea are modeling local services on the Happy Together plan, and the program is equally relevant in other lands with increasing numbers of immigrant spouses, such as Japan, Europe, and some African nations. As a coordinative project, with the aim of maximizing use of local resources to target a particular need group, the design is very much a model for other locales with varying needs and resources.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The immigrant women and their children are the impact. The Happy Together program has saved marriages, women have earned jobs through their training at the centers, and at-risk children are staying in school. The outcomes are less obvious today, but will be established in the decades to come as these multicultural families establish themselves in the core of the new Korean society. Ethnic divisiveness can be avoided in formerly monocultural lands.

Vertical alignment in service delivery is being replaced with one-shop services, where the same staff can access resources from diverse providers. This is significant change from traditional government offerings in Korea, which in the past provided multiple agency offices within a single building at best in most cases. (Foreign investment offices being the notable exception, where one-stop services have become the norm.) The lesson is that a single, motivated government staffer, with support from higher officers, can arrange close coordination and cooperation with other governmental branches where the target is clearly defined.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Daegu Metropolitan City, Women, Youth & Family Affairs Division
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Kyung Sun KIM
Title:   Director of Women, Youth & Family Affairs Division  
Telephone/ Fax:   TEL 82-53-803-4022/FAX 82-53-803-4019
Institution's / Project's Website:   www.daegu.go.kr
E-mail:   ghebok@daegu.go.kr  
Address:   88 Gongpyeong-ro, Jung-gu
Postal Code:   700-714
City:   Daegu Metropolitan City
State/Province:   Asia

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