Friday, July 03, 2009

Korea: Visually impaired mothers a cooking up a storm!

Kim Sun-mi, 33, the mother of two children, learns baking once a week at the Korean Red Cross' Nowon branch in northern Seoul. "Children like my bread more than that of a bakery. It's more delicious because I make it with good materials and my whole heart," she said.

Kim may be one among a growing number of Korean mothers who became interested in home cooking after some food safety-related scandals, such as the latest Chinese melamine-containing snacks, happened here in recent months.

But Kim and other women who attended the baking class on last Thursday were special -- they are visually impaired.

The blind mothers have participated in a three-month baking program from early April that is sponsored by the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Korea Blind Union which support similar programs for people with disabilities.

"For the last three years, our programs have gained great response from blind mothers," said Hong Eun-yeo, a social worker at the union for the blind.

"We conducted a survey in preparation for this year's programs and a lot of responding women showed their great interests in the current well-being trend. So, we launched a baking class helping them make both delicious and nutritious snacks for their children."

It may seem unthinkable for people to cook without being able to see. But most of the blind mothers cook for themselves, sometimes helped by family members or volunteers.

"Except for some complicated cooking skills such as frying with a lot of oil, blind mothers can cook after being trained briefly and becoming accustomed to it," said Hong, who is also visually impaired.

The scene at the baking class was not very different from those of other cooking classes. Most mothers, excluding some with severe visual disability, participated in every process in the class, including preparing the necessary materials, kneading dough, decorating the surface of the bread and arranging tools.

The only difference was the presence of the volunteers. They helped the mothers by letting them touch the materials and sometimes intervening in the most difficult tasks. They also took care of some dangerous things, such as the knives and push sticks for the safety of attending mothers.

Lee Hye-sung has been working as a volunteer worker at the charity for more than 11 years. "Blind mothers may feel some difficulties, but it's nothing difficult for me to help them. I am thankful for the job as I can help others while learning the new field of baking," she said.

For most of the mothers, attending the class is more than learning something new.

For Koh So-hyun, the more than one-hour way from Gwanak-gu where she lives to the charity center is not a big deal to catch the rare opportunity. Even though it was raining, all the registered members, except one, attended the class in the day.

"Actually I don't like cooking," she said with smile. "But this is a rare opportunity for us to learn something, so I'm enjoying the class. My fussy husband also likes bread that I make."

Cho Eun-hee, 40, said she was "a little nervous" when she tried to cook something complicated.

"But now I feel confidence," she said. "My child waits for me to cook and that encourages me a lot."

According to the government's survey of the disabled last year, there were some 220,000 visually impaired people accounting for 10 percent of the total 1.7 million people with disabilities.

In the survey, they pointed out cultural and leisure opportunities are most needed in their daily life along with job training programs and medical supports.

The organizers of the program also offer them chances to help others as they donate their bread to shelters for single mothers once a month.

"We, the visually disable, hardly have a social life," said Kim. "But through this opportunity I can spend my spare time more meaningfully and feel a great achievement."


By Lee Ji-yoon


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