As part of our "We are DWS" series we talk to Christopher Kimm, CEO and Head of Alternatives, Korea, about his support for a school built in Seoul to support North Korean refugees.
In 2017 a DWS colleague introduced Christopher to a fellow Korean/American couple who gave up their successful business in Los Angeles to move to South Korea with a vision of building a specialist school for North Korean refugees inadequately provided for in the country.
The result was the creation of Nehemiah Korea Daum School in Seoul. Starting with only a handful of students 11 years ago, the school – which is heavily reliant on charitable donations – now boasts over 50 students aged between 14 and 24 and teaches a typical curriculum including languages, mathematics and science. It has built up an impressive reputation with teachers travelling from far and wide for very little compensation for the opportunity to teach at the school.
Christopher and his family have been regular volunteers, helping to support the school and its students. “I’ve found this extremely rewarding and as the People Engagement Group (PEG) representative for Korea at the time I wanted to give our DWS team opportunities to get involved as well as colleagues from Deutsche Bank ahead of our IPO,” said Christopher, who says it’s easy to give money but something he has found much more enriching is to share his time with the students by helping to facilitate regular activities.
One of the first was to create hand-made soap using different designs and mixing colours to package up and sell around local bazaars. “The school just needed man power to produce as much as possible and almost all of our team jumped at the chance to support them,” says Christopher. “Making the soap was the commercial enterprise side to it, but the more rewarding and enriching aspect was to get to know the students personally and relationships would often be inter-generational – so a colleague approaching retirement age sharing his or her advice on different things with innocent children who would candidly open up about their experiences of growing up in North Korea.”
Other activities have focused on climate change and pollution and cleaning one of the main rivers in Seoul and Christopher’s 17 year-old daughter is extremely proud to have recently led a small group of students to design and produce their first-ever yearbook in time for graduation this spring.
There is a general assumption that the students we work with have left this awful country and that things must be fantastic for them here in South Korea but we quickly came to realise that many have an equally difficult time adjusting to their new lives because it is vastly different to their homeland,” says Christopher. “Just to get here, many will have escaped North Korea by crossing a river into China and had to endure terrible and treacherous journeys on foot through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and/or Vietnam – just to make it to a consulate office or embassy to help them defect to South Korea. Many of the children we work with will have done this at seven or eight years old which is both awe inspiring and heart breaking in equal measure.”
“That’s why I’m so passionate about helping these students and together we are focused on working on what we have in common rather than the differences between our people,” says Christopher. “We aspire to be magnanimous and altruistic in the help and support we can provide and I’m a strong believer in the line from the Bible which says: ‘to whom much is given, much will be required.
“For those of us who have been blessed with talent, resources, knowledge and time we have a moral duty to use these to benefit others not as fortunate as ourselves.”