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Former sponsored child pays it forward



“I was once a sponsored child, but now I am a sponsor!”

As a child during the Korean War, Oh Sung-Sam lost his father, causing his family to plunge into poverty. But that didn’t stop him from hoping for a better life. Sung-Sam shared about his incredible life journey, how World Vision helped him, and his promise to pay it forward with us as we celebrated World Vision’s 70th Anniversary recently.

After the Korean War in the 1950s, countless orphans and widows struggled to survive. Hungry children scavenged for food; mothers worked 15-hour days in factories or peddled wares on the street to make ends meet.

Sung-Sam was one of the many children affected by the War. His father tragically drowned trying to save a child. His mother sewed clothes in a factory, but she didn’t earn enough to support Sung-Sam and his two younger brothers. When he was nine, he went to live in an orphanage to ease his family’s burden.

Sung-Sam, now 73, vividly recalls his hungry childhood: “I was a naughty, mischievous ‘problem child’. When my classmates were out, I used to steal their lunches and eat them.”

When Sung-Sam was ten, the Gustafson family from the United States entered his life through World Vision’s Child Sponsorship Programme. The support he received would help him through many difficult moments.


A young life fraught with setbacks

At 15, Sung-Sam started thinking about his future. “I didn't want to spend the rest of my life working in a factory, earning barely enough money to keep food in my belly,” he said.

“I decided to study hard because I knew it was the only way I could really survive without wealth or political connections.” He attended Kon Kuk University in Seoul with a scholarship jointly funded by the university and World Vision, but the scholarship did not cover food and lodging.

Sung-Sam was given permission to sleep on the floor of his professor’s office. But the building had no proper heating for wintry nights. In summer, he slept at the top of the building under starry skies. To fill his stomach, Sung-Sam gave tuition, sold Christmas cards, and worked at construction sites.

Besides studying, Sung-Sam attended the Reserve Officer Training Corps and trained as a high school teacher. But things took a turn for the worse when he fell ill from pleurisy. “I was very weak after four years of college life, with too many nights sleeping on the cold floor. When I graduated I was hospitalised for two years.” Although he was fortunate to be alive, his dream of becoming an officer was shattered. “I saw joining the army as a once- and-for-all solution to poverty and hunger.”


A life-changing cheque


After recovering, Sung-Sam did his mandatory military service and continued his studies, earning a master's degree and pursuing a doctoral degree at Florida State University. In 1985, He was stripped of his scholarship with just one semester left. “I ran everywhere seeking help, but no one was willing to lend USD1,000 to a poor student like me.” Desperate, Sung-Sam wrote a letter to World Vision International asking for help. He could do nothing but wait.

Just when the payment was due, Sung-Sam was overjoyed to receive a personal letter and a cheque for USD1,000 from World Vision. Thinking back, Sung-Sam said: “This experience could be said to be a real turning point in my life. If I hadn't received that cheque, I don’t know what would have happened to me. I was determined that I would repay this debt of love.


Passing on the love

Having been blessed by others, Sung-Sam believes strongly in passing on the love and opportunities he received to others in need. He continues to stay in contact with his sponsors, the Gustafsons and their family, and the friendship now spans three generations.

As a former sponsored child, Sung-Sam firmly believes in child sponsorship. “I started with three children and increased the number to 68.” Even now in retirement, he still sponsors ten children.

Reflecting on his half-century-long journey with World Vision, Sung-Sam said with emotion: “I was once a sponsored child, but now I have become a sponsor. When facing difficulties in life, we may feel like the hardships never end. We need to tell people in despair that there is no ordeal too severe to overcome. It is my sincere hope that World Vision will keep walking with children for whom dreams are just a luxury, so that one day they can realise their dreams.

Mr. Oh Sung-Sam’s story of hope and transformation is one of many in the 70 years since World Vision was founded. We are grateful that many former sponsored children like Mr. Oh Sung-Sam who have been empowered by hope are now passing on hope to the children who need it most.

Learn more how to pass on hope to a child in need