Diplomat licensed to help needy children
Published : Jun 26, 2011 - 19:43
Updated : Jun 27, 2011 - 10:16
France’s Bertrand devotes Saturdays to volunteer work

For most of us, Saturdays are our personal time to spend with the family or hang out with friends and escape the rat race of work.

For Lydie Bertrand, Saturday is her special day, not because she explores the country or goes shopping; instead she feeds her spirit by helping those who need it the most.

“There are not many things in life that give you happiness in the long run except for the love you give, and because of this, I get a hundred times more,” said Bertrand, who is spokesperson and press adviser for the French Embassy. 
French Embassy Spokesperson and Press Advisor Lydie Bertrand comforts two children at the Jusarang Community Church. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

Her Saturdays start off taking the subway to the southern part of the city, a mode of transport she had never taken before in her years in diplomatic service.

At 5 p.m., the volunteers at the Ju-sarang Community Church have to force her to go home.

While there, she gives every ounce of her love and energy to children that were born with either mental or physical disabilities.

“It’s in my blood to help people,” she said. “I have no businesspeople in my ancestry; they were all in the service of helping others.”

Bertrand’s cousin opened a school for special needs children in Vietnam and operates another school in Switzerland to instruct professors on how to educate children with special needs.

The next generation in her family is the same. Her son has taught English at an orphanage in Vietnam

“I’m race and religion blind, it’s the person I love. What I do is not for religious purposes, it’s for the kids,” she said.

During her day at the orphanage Bertrand handles children one after another. She helps to bathe, feed and educate every child she can.

“I find that the first 10 years of a child’s life is very important,” she said. “So you have to give love and be loved, this way it will instill in them a confidence that will make them proper, well-balanced adults in society.”

The Jewish rabbi, physician and philosopher Maimonides said during the Middle Ages in his “Eight Levels of Giving” that the highest form of charity is of one that gives or invests in a manner that that person can become self-sufficient.

Another level is to give to the poor without or before being asked.

Bertrand lives that life every Saturday.

“I always wanted to work for orphanages and give them the love and attention they need,” she said. “I look forward to Saturdays more than anything that I have for years now.”

Bertrand was originally reluctant to be interviewed; instead she wanted the focus on the orphanage itself.

The Ju-sarang Community Church is fostering, or has adopted, about 20 children so far, but that number is growing.

The children at the home were originally abandoned by their families because of their disabilities, said Reverend Lee Jong-rak.

“Support for us comes from the government, individuals and nongovernment organizations,” said Lee.

But Bertrand sees a challenge in the near future. She predicts that by the end of the year, Lee will have to take care of about 100 children.

Abandoned newly-born children, either disabled or not, are placed in a special bin Lee built on the side of his home in Nangok-dong, Gwanak-gu.

He got the idea after finding a baby that was left on the streets.

Bertrand explained that Lee was afraid for the baby’s safety not only because the baby was left abandoned but also because of the alley cats that were hovering over the newborn.

That is when Lee came up with the idea to build a revolving “baby box,” as he calls it, where parents could safely place their newborns anonymously, then ring the bell and disappear quietly into the night.

“Every Saturday I come there is at least another baby,” she said.

To help with the home’s finances, Bertrand is planning a fundraiser.

She already has a master of ceremonies and performer giving their time without asking for anything in return. The only thing she needs now is a hotel that would not charge as much as normal.

“It’s physically exhausting but mentally and emotionally, it’s so rewarding that it overcomes the physical exhaustion,” Bertrand said with a warm smile.

By Yoav Cerralbo (