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Dentist helps North Korean defectors in memory of his father


Shin Deok-Jae,<strong></strong> the director of Central Dental Clinic in Seoul, right, has volunteered in medical services organized by Korea Hana Foundation for North Korean defectors. Courtesy of Korea Hana Foundation
Shin Deok-Jae, the director of Central Dental Clinic in Seoul, right, has volunteered in medical services organized by Korea Hana Foundation for North Korean defectors. Courtesy of Korea Hana Foundation

By Yi Whan-woo

A dentist in his 70s is extending a helping hand to North Korean defectors in honor of his father who was left behind in the North during the 1950-53 Korean War and was never seen again. Shin Deok-Jae, 72, the director of the Central Dental Clinic in Seoul, has volunteered his medical services and has donated hundreds of millions of won for defectors since 2003.

Originally from the North, Shin's father and rest of the family were separated by the war. His father told the family to escape to the South first, promising to join them after taking care of business. Shin was five years old then.

"It still sounds real whenever I think of him saying he will catch up with us," Shin said.
"My heart breaks even several decades after we were separated."

After entering Seoul National University as dentistry major, Shin formed a medical volunteer group comprised of university students in Seoul in 1974.

Shin initially wanted to help poor men who were possibly in his father's age group.

"After graduating from school and opening my dental clinic, I began to expand the volunteer programs to various groups of people, including the homeless and migrant workers," he said.

With an increasing number of defectors, he joined another medical volunteer project in 2003 organized by the Korea Hana Foundation.

This is a non-profit organization operating under the wing of the Ministry of Unification to help defectors settle in the South

"I'm emotionally attached because I was a former refugee from the North and also because I still miss my father," Shin said.
His latest donations include 100 million won ($86,000) to the Korea Han Foundation's dental prosthesis support project, 100 million won to a scholarship fund and 100 million won for an overseas medical volunteer project.

When asked about unification of the two Koreas, Shin said "I hope it comes true so that I can visit my birthplace before I die."

However, he said he is against "drawing a rosy picture for unification," adding, "the North will not easily give up its nuclear program."

He asked defectors to "make every effort" to successfully settle in the South while asking the government to enhance their job training.


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