Kim Tae-ryeon and Sue Trone finally had the chance to meet each other. They are the two masters who have dedicated their lives to help individuals with disabilities improve their lives and dream big. Their involvement with Best Buddies has created opportunities for individuals with and without disabilities to become friends.
In 2010, President Kim launched Best Buddies Korea with KRW 30 million from a group of female volunteers(she is also Korea Region Governor of Soroptimist International) and the initiative has expanded since then. Trone is working as Area Director of Asia and Oceania at Best Buddies International. Her job is to promote the implementation of the initiative across the globe.
On August 16, all the students enrolled in the program exhibited their drawings and ceramics at Cais Gallery in Seoul. Individuals with and without disabilities, parents, and teachers volunteered to welcome visitors who appreciated their work and effort. It was at this successful event that the two leaders met.
“Best Buddies Korea is a role model”
“I talked with Director Trone to figure out what programs would best work to encourage individuals with disabilities to live on their own and become part of mainstream society. We also talked about holding a regional conference in Asia. Among others, creativity and ideas unique to each region are very significant. This has been proven by Best Buddies Korea.” (President Kim)
Some say the program would be most successful in areas where people have a good understanding of those with disabilities. However, according to Trone, that is not always the case.
“It is not appropriate to evaluate whether the program is working well or not. Nevertheless, Korea is a role model because it has constantly held annual music festivals or exhibitions. Even though the organization was founded 24 years ago, activities vary by regions. For instance, Best Buddies is a household name in Florida, New York, California, and Massachusetts. The success of the program depends on how well it is organized. And contrary to our belief, Best Buddies activities improve people’s understanding of their neighbors with disabilities.” (Director Trone)
Trone is currently in charge of 12 branches throughout Asia and Oceania. Her next plan is to open new branches in China as well. When she visited Korea, she showed great interest in Buddy Ambassadors which will educate and empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to be leaders and public speakers in their communities. First introduced in the U.S. ten years ago, the program has been implemented in other countries including Colombia and Norway. In Norway, it is noteworthy to see that the Parliament is discussing over the passage of a bill to enhance the rights of the disabled.
Through Buddy Ambassadors, speak out for the enactment of a bill to protect the rights of the disabled
“Despite disabilities, individuals can build self-confidence and become independent as they learn to speak up for themselves. Participants learn the skills needed for self-advocacy. I have noticed, this program is very popular in Korea. When it is implemented sometime next year, more people will listen to people with disabilities.” (Director Trone)
President Kim agreed, “This program will help the government spend the social welfare budget effectively. We would really appreciate if the Korean government or companies would be more interested in the program.” (Kim Tae-ryeon)
When Trone taught English for two years in Japan, she began to question the need to isolate children with special education needs. 10 years later, she studied urban and regional planning at the Florida State University and started working for NGOs.
“Based on these experiences, I am currently focusing on individuals with disabilities, Asia, and social welfare. I believe friendship is all the more important for those with disabilities. Many of disability services centers prioritize counseling and education over friendship. Would you be satisfied with your life when you are only surrounded by social workers, parents, and doctors and when there is no one whom you can call ‘friend’?”
One-to-one friendships between individuals with and without IDD help them dream big
Emeritus Professor Kim of Ewha Womans University is a psychologist who has studied developmental disorder for the last five decades. The term ‘developmental disorder’ was first used by Professor Kim as well. With the signing of Korea-France Science and Technology Agreement in the 1970s, she sent her students to France to study the treatment of the disabled. In the early 1980s, Korea’s first rehabilitation center for children with disabilities opened in Ewha Womans University.
“I was very lucky to have studied psychology. At first, I just wanted to understand other people. However, I have narrowed down my focus to people with disabilities. Personally, Best Buddies allowed me to observe how well we can put theories into practice. Friendship changed everyone. Those without disabilities now cherish being able to help others. Motivated by such changes, their parents have become volunteers or donors.
In contrast to our belief, there is plenty of room for these children to grow. As long as we do not give up, they can reach their potential.”
She added, “Please, treat everyone equally. Let us bear in mind that these children can overcome their disabilities.”
About ‘Best Buddies’
‘Best Buddies’ means ‘best friends.’ Under the initiative, participants form friendships and learn to become responsible members of a society.
Best Buddies International was founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver. It currently operates accredited international programs in 52 countries. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a pioneer in the struggle for rights for people with intellectual disabilities. She is also the founder of Special Olympics.
In February of 2010, Best Buddies Korea was launched in cooperation with AI Corea which offers lifelong education and focuses on the treatment of those with disabilities. It has partnered with 10 schools across the nation. Participants meet every two weeks, exchange messages twice a week, and participate in group work twice a semester.
So far, Best Buddies Korea has expanded rapidly. In 2011, it received awards from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. Also, it was granted Best Buddies International Top Country Chapter Award Outstanding Chapter Award in 2011 and 2013.
Director Seo Soo-jeong of Best Buddies Korea said, “The organization is well received by the public. People are familiar with what we do.”