By Greta Petry (July 16, 2007)
Huh: "We Had to Do Something"
University at Albany graduates think and act globally, and use their talents to better the world.
Several years ago, Hallym University Graduate School of Social Welfare Dean Nam Soon Huh was shocked by articles in the South Korean newspapers about the hardships faced by the growing number of children being raised in poverty.
"There were the most awful stories about hungry children in the newspapers," Huh said. Huh earned her doctorate from the University at Albany's School of Social Welfare in 1997. Building on the skills she gained at UAlbany, she is considered a leader in her country who has transformed the way Koreans advocate on behalf of vulnerable children and families.
"Building on the skills she gained at UAlbany, she is considered a leader in her country..."
The Asian financial crisis of 1997 had left many families homeless and in debt. Family violence was on the rise, there were more child abuse and neglect cases, and divorce rates were quadrupling.
Worse yet, there was no way out. Only six percent of children born to poor families in Korea had a chance of bettering their lives.
"We decided that just writing these articles was not enough – we had to do something," said Huh.
Huh responded by founding "We Start," which provides free meals, tutoring, and dental and eye care for children in poverty up to age 12.
At a recent UAlbany appearance, Huh said We Start has grown from one center in 2004 to 18 serving 5,000 children. Huh was welcomed by School of Social Welfare Dean Katharine Briar- Lawson and by Vice President for Research Lynn Videka. Huh was also honored with the Excellence in Public Service Award given by the University at Albany Alumni Association last month.
It's not that parents did not want to help, Huh said. Most were working long hours as fishermen, field workers, housemaids or dishwashers, and had little food to leave at home for the children. Grandparents, who in some cases could not read or write, were raising grandchildren.
Children who started school behind rarely caught up. Huh explained classes are large and the education system in Korea so rigorous, there are no special teachers to help students catch up once they fall behind.
We Start villages have been so successful the Korean government will launch a similar program in 16 cities and provinces throughout the country later this year, Huh said.
UAlbany's School of Social Welfare faculty consistently rank among the top five schools in the nation for their research and scholarship, ranked according to per capita productivity. Like its faculty, alumni like Huh are an impressive force as they pioneer new services, teach and conduct research in communities around the world.
Huh has built international partnerships with other schools, including UAlbany, which hosts Hallym students each summer for two weeks.