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Actress Kim Hye-ja: the Audrey Hepburn of Korea

2005/05/18 Source

Actress Kim Hye-ja took in her 51st child in Liberia, Africa, on May 5. Her latest child is an eight-month-old Liberian orphan named Kotati.

As a goodwill ambassador of the non-profit Christian relief organization World Vision, Kim has traveled to war and disaster stricken countries like Ethiopia, India and Sierra Leone and sponsored children suffering from hunger and disease. She makes donations every month and visits the children whenever she is available. Where does her boundless love come from?
Creating the Image of a Traditional Mother

Kim became an actress in 1962, signing a contract with KBS while still attending Ewha Women's University. Since then, she has appeared in 90 television dramas including "A Rural Diary", "What is Love", "Two Women", "The Sea of Mother", and "Roses and Bean Sprouts". She has also appeared in 13 plays including "Shirley Valentine", as well as various movies such as "In Late Fall" and "Mayonnaise".

Particularly, Kim created the image of a virtuous and loving traditional mother while appearing in the drama "Rural Diary" for 20 years. We can recall our own affectionate and heart-warming mothers through her.

But she has not built up the image of a mother only on the screen. Kim was reborn as a genuine archetypal mother of our era by traveling through war and poverty-hit African countries and other regions and participating in relief work for 14 years
The First Step toward Africa
Kim Hye-ja first visited Africa in the summer of 1992 after finishing the mega-hit drama "What is Love?" She had received a phone call from World Vision while preparing for a trip to Prague and Budapest with her daughter.

The relief organization told her that Korea had been a beneficiary of foreign aid and it was time for the country to help other countries in need. Persuaded by the conversation, Kim cancelled her East European trip and headed for Ethiopia. That was her first step toward participating in relief work in Africa.
"I Hope I Won't Come to a Country Like This Again

When departing for the African country, she thought that it would just be a simple trip to Ethiopia. However, after arriving in the country, Kim found that the harsh reality of life there was totally different from what she expected. She realized for the first time that such a large number of people were dying from starvation. Tears ceaselessly flowed from her eyes; she constantly wept while she was in the country, even during her sleep.

Kim was so shocked by the miserable state of children dying from hunger that she prayed on the plane returning home, "My God, please don't make me go to a country like that again". She complained to God, asking why He had created Africa just to put so many people in pain and why the guiltless, innocent children were dying.

But now, Kim doesn't resent God; rather, she thanks Him for sending her to Africa. She thinks that God sent her to those countries because there is something she can do there. She decided to spend the rest of her life serving other people.
"Don't Beat Them even with Flowers"
Since the shocking encounter with the poor and wretched in Africa, Kim has met children and women in refugee camps around the globe for more than 10 years. Based on her experiences, she published a book entitled "Don't beat Them Even with Flowers" in 2004.

Kim says in her book, "If you have something to eat in the refrigerator, can put on clothes, live under a roof and have a place to sleep, you are better off than 70 percent of the people living in the world. If you have never experienced the dangers of war, imprisonment, torture or hunger, you are happier than 500 million people in the world".

On every page of the book, she appeals to the world not to turn a blind eye to the affliction facing African children.

Kim willingly donated the 62 million won (about US$62,000) earned by her book to children who were the victims of an explosion disaster in the North Korean city of Ryoingchon. She will donate all future proceeds from the book over the next 10 years to poor North and South Korean children.

While holding an autograph session in Busan after publishing the book, she received a white envelope from a man. Twenty thousand won was in the envelope, and the man told her to spend the money on relief work. Kim says with a smile, "If I had not published the book, I would not have experienced such happy moments such as this".
A Genuine Star
While participating in relief work traveling around poverty-stricken countries, Kim has acquired new habits. First, she doesn't waste any food and eats every last bit of every meal, thinking of all the children suffering from hunger. Second, when buying goods, she calculates, "How many African Children can go to school and eat for a month with this amount of money?"

Working as a goodwill ambassador of World Vision, Kim has turned into a mother figure for starving people throughout the world. Kim says, "Charity is to bestow a favor on people in need. By helping them, we feel joyful, and that's a reward in itself".

It is definitely difficult for a star to be loved by the public for a long period of time. Most celebrities become forgotten over time, and the public is usually enthralled with a star for only a short period. What is the hallmark of a genuine star, then?

Audrey Hepburn, who shot to stardom after starring in the movie "Roman Holiday", retired from the showbiz industry in 1989. Until she died in 1993 at the age of 64, she played the leading role in relief work for starving African children. She is remembered as a timeless star now. If one is a genuine star, they will gleam brightly and still be remembered even after their death. That is why we can call Kim Hye-ja "the Audrey Hepburn of Korea" without hesitation.

A meaningful story can be found in Kim's book "Don't Beat Them Even With Flowers". In front of God, a person demands, "Why is there sadness and anguish in the world, even though you are present?" God answers, "That is why I sent you into the world".

Perhaps we all live in the world for just one simple reason. Kim has found her simple reason and has put her idea into action. She is truly a beautiful woman.

▣ Profile
Born in Seoul in 1941
Graduated from Ehwa Women's University majoring in living art
Debuted in show business in 1962

▣ Works
Dramas-"A Rural Diary", "A Sand Castle", "Winter haze", "The Sea of Mother", "What is love?" and "Roses and Bean Sprouts"
Films-"In Late Fall" and "Mayonnaise"
Plays-"19 and 80" and "Shirley Valentine"

▣ Awards
-Received the grand prix and the best leading actress award at the Baeksang Art Awards six times after winning the Baeksang Best New Comer Award in 1966
-Won the grand prix and special award of the MBC Awards.
-Won the Dongah Play Award and the best leading actress award at the Manila International film Festival
-Won the Feminism Award from the Women News
-Picked as the best model by advertisers
-Became the first actress to receive the Wiam Jang Ji-yeon Prize
-Became the first Asian person to receive the Visible Difference Award granted by Elizabeth Arden

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