10/29/2021, 12.29
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Changing the Rules of the Squid Game: Fr. Bordo's Commitment to homeless

by Alessandra De Poli

The guests of Anna's House, the homeless center run by the missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, are not always in debt like the protagonists of the Netflix series. They are young people and adults with mental problems and disabilities, former prisoners, poor elderly and homeless: the outcasts, the abandoned by the system, the last ones. Thanks to Fr. Bordo they are given the chance to rebuild their lives.


Seoul (AsiaNews) - "To survive in South Korea, one must be smart, cunning and fast." It could be a line taken from "Squid Game," but speaking to AsiaNews is 64-year-old Father Vincenzo Bordo, a missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. "We take care of those who are none of the above." 

He chose the name Kim Ha Jong, which means "servant of God," for his life in Korea. In Seongam, an hour and a half from the capital Seoul, Mr. Kim (as Koreans call him) runs Anna's House, a center for people living on the streets. The guests are not in debt like in Squid Game, but are mostly young people and adults with mental problems and disabilities, ex-convicts, poor elderly people, bums and homeless people. They are the marginalized, those abandoned by the system, which - you learn from watching the Netflix series - is hyper-competitive and unbridledly capitalistic. 

One day a wealthy Christian restaurateur who had learned of the missionary's activities in soup kitchens with the poorest, told Fr. Bordo he wanted to fund a new center for the homeless. He declared himself non-practicing, but wanted to honor the death of his mother who had recently died. That's how Anna's House was born, which today offers both basic services (meals, showers, barber shop) as well as housing, psychological help, art and music therapy activities, and legal assistance.

"The first thing we do is to pull them up psychologically and then help them reintegrate into society: those who want to study can do so and graduate, those who cannot return home can stay with us longer. For the youngest we have several family houses". But those who have been living on the streets for decades, he explains, often prefer to take advantage of primary services only. 

"I came here in 1990, but today's is a completely different country than it was then." And the changes are especially noticeable in the younger generation. "Before, the kids who came here always had a lighter and a knife in their pockets to defend themselves in the street," says the missionary, originally from Piansano, in the province of Viterbo. "Now those who run away from home don't have socks and underwear, but they always carry a tablet and at least two cell phones."

Sometimes it's Fr. Bordo with his staff who goes out to gather the last of them on the streets, sometimes they arrive spontaneously. "When a couple divorces, the children are almost always entrusted to the father, it's a practice that comes from Confucianism," explains the religious. "If he remarries, the new wife treats the husband's children very badly, and they run away to avoid physical and psychological violence." 

In Squid Game, Cho Sang-woo, one of the contestants in the "squid game," makes the family believe that he is still a career man with a thriving financial business after graduating from the prestigious Seoul University. In reality, he is also being chased by loan sharks, up to his neck in debt, and doesn't know how to get out of it. Every once in a while, someone with a story similar to Cho Sang-woo's also comes to Anna's House.

"On the top floor of our center there is also a small factory. Those who work here get a salary and have free room and board. In a couple of years, some manage to save up to 20,000 euros and rebuild their lives," the missionary continues. "The other day I was at the traffic lights and I was greeted by a man who, with his hat and mask, I didn't immediately recognize. He had been with us for three years after his company went bankrupt and now he has resumed his business." He tells AsiaNews by phone, but you can hear him smiling as he talks about it. "We give a chance to those who can't fit the rules of the system." 

The priest says that with the pandemic, things have become more complicated because, for example, meals have to be served outdoors, in a large parking lot, and for the staff that means twice as much work. The number of people to be served has grown to 750 (it used to be 200 less), with neighbors complaining. "Yes, the center is big and so many people who live on the street congregate together in the same place. The people here don't like that," concludes Fr. Bordo, who won't give up and continues to play by his own rules of the game.

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