AS IS with any other medical institution, the Severance Hospital commenced with a humble beginning. Che-jung-won, or the “House of Universal Helpfulness,” began its journey in 1885 under Dr. Horace Allen’s leadership. Enduring through Korea’s turbulent history of colonialism under Imperial Japan (1910-1945) and the atrocities of the Korean War (1950-1953), Che-jung-won developed into the Severance Hospital, now one of the most advanced hospitals that spearheads not only the medical industry, but also the values of compassion and service. In addition to the humanitarian mission to provide medical aid to those in need, at the Severance Hospital’s core lies another crucial principle: commitment to spreading the culture of sharing. The Yonsei Annals delved into the different types of services and programs that are offered by the Severance Hospital, all of which have kept Dr. Allen’s philanthropic mission and passion very much alive to this day.
The miracle of donations
Each and every member of the Severance faculty and staff actively participates in the fulfillment of the hospital’s philanthropic mission. The “Severance 1% Sharing Movement,” for instance, celebrated its ten-year anniversary last year. To commemorate this momentous day, the faculty voluntarily chose to donate 1% of their salary to fund patients who have been undergoing financial difficulties. As a result, ₩1.54 billion was collected in the Sinchon Severance Hospital alone, as of June 2017. Since the establishment of the movement in 2008 until last year, ₩1.2 billion has been used to support 804 patients within the Sinchon branch of the hospital.
Gangnam Severance Hospital embarked on the same movement in 2009, in which 75% of its faculty participated. The movement raised a total of ₩1.58 billion as of 2017. In addition to such fundraising efforts, the Gangnam Severance Hospital went the extra mile by reaching beyond the regional community and aiding those who are desperately in need of medical services across the globe. That is, the Gangnam Severance has not only been engaging in medical volunteering within Korea, but it has also been dispatching faculty members as missionaries to impoverished nations abroad. Performing surgical treatments to the underprivileged foreign patients, after all, is only a fraction of the work that the Gangnam Severance devotes itself to.
In the same vein, the staff of the Sinchon Severance Hospital gives back to its community in a number of ways. In April 2015, the Sinchon branch collaborated with the Seodaemun-gu Office by donating 25 wheelchairs, which were worth ₩2 million, to the “Outing with the Elderly Social Service Program.” With the donated wheelchairs, volunteers were able to assist elderly citizens in their excursions around town.
The “Happiness Sharing Day,” conducted by the Sinchon Severance’s General Affairs Department, also epitomizes its humanitarian mission. On Feb. 22, 2017, 20 hospital staff members visited a board game café* called Mo-du-da. This café is a social enterprise that hires employees with developmental disabilities, and it aims to provide them with employment and combat stereotypes against people with disabilities. After playing games with Mo-du-da’s employees, the Severance staff delivered a donation of ₩10 million to the café. This donation was a part of the “Happiness Sharing Day,” which is a novel form of charity that takes up a reverse-order of donations. As part of this project, the Sinchon Severance Hospital distributed each staff with ₩50,000, which, in turn, gave them an opportunity to perform a good deed with that money. A total amount of ₩260 million was distributed to 5,318 employees of the hospital, and various departments devised innovative ways to extend their philanthropy. Their ideas included providing stationery and backpacks to students at a children’s welfare center, and delivering food and daily necessities to the homeless.
Global medical volunteer work
As mentioned before, the Severance’s volunteer work expands globally into underprivileged countries, such as Kenya, Mongolia, Malaysia, and Tanzania. In August 2018, the Severance medical team set out on a volunteer expedition to Cambodia to provide medical service to those who do not have access to any forms of treatment. This year’s visit marked the seventh visit since the very first Cambodian missionary trip that Severance embarked on. With each visit, the medical team has been able to treat approximately 800 residents. Having received a diagnosis through a blood test, patients were accordingly assigned to doctors from the departments of family medicine, gynecology, emergency medicine, general surgery, dentistry, or physiotherapy. Even within the dire medical conditions of the remote location, doctors did not hesitate in performing surgeries to patients whose state of health was in need of an immediate treatment. Although provided with limited resources and labor force, the Severance team gave it their best to assist Cambodian residents in improving their health. Embodying the spirit of care, many expressed how they wished they could have done more to help the residents upon their departure.
The good deeds of Severance, however, do not stop in overseas volunteering services. Furthermore, Severance also invites underprivileged patients from other countries to Korea, where they are able to receive complicated and cutting-edge treatments that cannot be serviced in their home countries. This treatment is sponsored by the “Global Charity Global Severance,” which began as a celebration of the 125th anniversary of Yonsei University in 2011. This program commenced with the purpose of providing treatment for patients in economically and medically underdeveloped countries.
This year, for example, the Severance Hospital was able to help five children from Haiti who had long suffered from a chronic heart illness. The process of their medical treatment involved the most meticulous steps, both medical and social, such as assuring and persuading the children’s parents for their approval of the surgery. After going through these stages, Severance was able to successfully escort the treated children from Haiti to South Korea and offered each of them a desperately needed heart surgery. All five patients were able to recover their health, and they returned back to their homes in Haiti upon their full recuperation.
One step closer to the community
Who says charity is formal, rigid, and not entertaining? The Severance Hospital, for one, brings fun, laughter and hope to its community through its charitable acts. The bbung-tee-gui** selling event exemplifies these contributions by Severance. Collaborating with Aramark, a catering company, the two institutions sold bbung-tee-gui at various locations in the hospital to raise money and awareness for low-income households. This year’s event was the fourth to be held since its establishment, and one of the most successful yet. Organizers of the event, the Yonsei University Health System, revealed that the 3,000 packets of the snacks were sold out within 1.5 hours since the start of their sale. Each packet was originally set at the price of ₩2,000, but because of the kind-hearted donations made by many participants, the event was concluded with a donation of ₩6.5 million—an amount well over the initially expected sum. Various celebrities were invited to participate in the event, including top comedians, singers, and announcers, such as Olala Session, a Korean pop group. The President and CEO of The Yonsei University Health System, Yoon Do-heum, was also present, not missing this chance to show his love and care for the low-income families and the community.
This November, the “Severance on Two Feet Day” was held once again to provide laughter and entertainment to Severance’s patients. The event was organized with the help of numerous celebrities, who gathered with the purpose of bringing joy and positivity to patients suffering from rare and incurable diseases. Popular singers and comedians gave various performances, including trot*** shows which, President Yoon Do-heum explained, hoped to provide the patients with energy and encouragement to get through the painful surgical processes. He also strongly expressed that the Yonsei University Health System intended to continue on with their spirit of generosity. By creating an atmosphere of joy, Severance whole-heartedly brings together a community of patients, their families, the faculty and members of the public.
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Through fundraising events, donations, volunteering abroad, and entertaining activities, the Severance Hospital is staying true to its core value of spreading the spirit of love and care to all. Unconditional giving is something that is more easily said than done, but Severance is proving to the world of its heart-warming achievements. From its humble roots as Che-jung-won, or the “House of Universal Helpfulness,” to its development as a world-renowned hospital, Severance continues to embody the founding principle through its philanthropic acts.
*Board game café: A popular type of café in Korea, where visitors can play different types of board games
**Bbung-tee-gui: A popular Korean snack made of popped grain rice, more commonly known as puffed rice
***Trot: A K-Pop genre, mostly popular among the older generations