Support for 'goose mother' Korean immigrants

02:25, Sep 23 2011
Goose mothers
BRIDGING THE GAP: Members of the Korean Women's Network New Zealand, from left: Catharine Shinke, Selina Yang and founder Soo Young Lee.

The lonely plight of "goose mothers" and their children is being tackled by an Albany-based women's group.

"Goose mother" is the term given to Korean women who leave their husbands and their homeland in search of better opportunities abroad for their children.

The Korean term is kirogi, meaning wild geese, a metaphor relating to how the birds fly long distances in search of food for their young.

Academic opportunities here are considered more accessible and the lifestyle offers a refreshing new start.

But behind the facade of the New Zealand dream is a painful struggle to settle into Kiwi society.

Murrays Bay resident and self-proclaimed "goose mother" Soo Young Lee has made it her mission to end the depression and isolation that haunts migrant Korean women.

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Mrs Lee and her two children Jack, 18, and Sally, 17, came to the North Shore from Seoul, South Korea, in 2003.

Mrs Lee's husband was unable to find work in New Zealand and has remained alone in Seoul for nine years where he works long hours to provide for the family.

Skype and email are their means of keeping in touch and they can only afford to be reunited once every few years.

"When we first arrived I felt a lot of loneliness and all I had was my two children," Mrs Lee says.

Like many "goose mothers" she has suffered crippling depression.

"I wanted to end my life. My husband told me to join the gym to keep busy so I didn't have time to think about my problems.

"So I went every day, sometimes twice a day," Mrs Lee says. She was desperate for help and in 2009 established a coffee group with five other Korean women.

The Albany-based group is now known as the Korean Women's Network New Zealand. It has grown to 60 members and is about to become a charitable trust.

"I want to offer support and company for women like me. I want to be the bridge and to encourage Korean women to speak up," Mrs Lee says.

The group meets every Monday at 9.30am in Albany House. Sessions about settling in and learning English are supplemented by fun activities such as belly dancing, hair and makeup classes. "We tell all newcomers: 'You are not alone, you are very valuable and we are here for you'."

Visit www.koreanwomensnetwork.org.nz

North Harbour News