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16 March 2010

Fan clubs lead charity movement

Every day for the past month, Jeon Eun-joo, a 40-year-old housewife living in Ilsan, has sat in front of her computer after sending her child off to prep school.

With just a few clicks, she would log into a bank website to check how much money had been deposited into a fund-raising account opened by the "Miclub Jihoo-Hyunjoong-ari," one of many fan clubs dedicated to pop star Kim Hyun-joong.

The club recently donated 14,917,564 won ($13,221) to the Beautiful Foundation to establish a scholarship fund in Kim's name. Kim is the leader of boy band SS501, and also starred as one of the four "flower boys" in KBS hit drama "Boys Over Flowers" last year.

It was the first time for a fan club to set up such a fund under a celebrity's name. And it had been Jeon's idea all along.

An ardent fan of Kim since August 2008, Jeon wanted to do something different to share the happiness that she receives from her idol.

"Our motives were pure. We looked for ways to really connect with Kim," said Jeon, who had joined the club enamored with Kim's good-hearted image on "We Got Married," an MBC reality show. "As his fans, we tried to come up with ideas that could develop his belief in the power of sharing in continuous and practical ways."

"I'm proud and thankful that we were able to help the less fortunate in Kim's name," she said.

"Hwasueunhwa," a fan club of popular girl group Girls' Generation, is another that has raised large sums of money to help those in need.

"Over 52 million won has been distributed under the name of Girls' Generation in 2009 alone," said Lee Jang-won, an office worker in Seoul who is in charge of donations at Hwasueunhwa.

"Our donations in part began as a way to do away with the society's negative view toward grown men cheering for young female singers," Lee said. "But we now believe that by giving charity and helping the marginalized, we are giving the group members something special."

Hwasueunhwa's contributions take place year-round as the club makes donations on each birthday of the nine group members. "Our next donation is scheduled on April 18, Jessica's birthday," Lee said.

By making contributions in the name of their beloved stars, fan clubs are placing themselves at the forefront of a new philanthropy movement in Korea, where donations comprised a meager 0.16 percent of its gross domestic product in 2008, compared to 2.2 percent in the United States.

According to statistics released by the foundation in November, Korea's per-capita donations stood at 109,000 won in 2007, less than one-10th the figure for the United States in 2004.

"The Kim Hyun-joong scholarship was particularly significant in that 100 fans pledged to make periodic donations to the fund," said Kim Jin-ah, head of the resource development team at the Beautiful Foundation.

She said Koreans usually consider donations a one-time deal, noting that the culture of charity here still lags far behind other developed countries.

"People need to realize the true joy of giving. In this regard, I view the recent trend of celebrities and their fan clubs giving money for charity positively," she said.

Kang Tae-gyu, a culture critic, said that as celebrities are setting an example by making donations, their fans are getting on the bandwagon. "Fans are no longer passive in their roles. Their social participation has become much more active and positive in this aspect," he said.

In fact, many Korean celebrities have generously donated money for many purposes, earning themselves the title "donating angel."

While Kim Yu-na, the Olympic champion in figure skating, recently donated 100 million won toward relief efforts in Haiti, singer Kim Jang-hoon's accumulated donations have surpassed 8 billion won.

The trend is also creating ripples abroad. As "Hallyu" stretches its influence, overseas fan clubs of Korean stars are joining the movement. "Soshified.com," an international Girls' Generation fan club, recently donated $3,500 to Korea's National Red Cross for Haiti relief efforts in the name of Girls' Generation.

"As long as it is kept moderate, and their purpose appropriate, I believe that we ought to publicize the trend more often to help the charity culture to take root," Kang said.

By Lee Ho-joon

source: The Korea Herald

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