Mixed-race adoptees seek to reunite families through DNA bank

April 7, 2016
Sarah Savidakis (L) and Katherine Kim of 325Kamra pose for a photo after an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on April 7, 2016.

Sarah Savidakis (L) and Katherine Kim of 325Kamra pose for a photo after an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on April 7, 2016.

SEOUL, (Yonhap) — An American non-profit organization has started to build a DNA database to help reconnect Korean adoptees with their birth families, but the task remains a daunting one as few people in Korea have heard about it, organization officials said Thursday.

325Kamra was launched in September after a group of mixed-race adoptees found their own families through DNA testing and realized it could be a game-changer for adoptees wanting similar closure in their lives.

So far, the group has only been able to test five Koreans who have come forward asking for the service, but they plan to use their trip here this month to test as many as possible for free with the 300 DNA kits they brought with them.

“We decided we need to do this. We knew it was possible because we personally experienced success,” Katherine Kim, CFO of 325Kamra, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. “If we can reach a broader audience, we can help people make

significant biological connections, meet biological family if the family is receptive to it.”

Although the organization is open to all adoptees, its primary focus has been on helping biracial adoptees reconnect with their Korean mothers, many of whom worked in camp towns near U.S. military bases in Korea after the 1950-53 Korean War. The U.S. has maintained a troop presence here as a deterrence against North Korea because the conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the Koreas technically still at war.

Kim said she was able to find family on her American father’s side when her DNA matched with that of a first cousin, once removed.

In the U.S., there are four databases where people can upload their DNA for matches with members who could be as close as one generation removed and as far as many generations apart.

South Korea, however, only provides one-to-one testing between a suspected parent and a suspected child. If that test fails, they are left searching from scratch.

Reuniting families is not the only aim of 325Kamra, according to its president, Sarah Savidakis. As adoptees get into their 40s and 50s, they often need to know their family’s medical histories in order to address their own health issues.

“I’ve had cancer, liver issues,” she told Yonhap. “My father’s side — they’ve had liver issues — but (doctors) don’t think it’s related to what I have. It’s very important for us, for our children.”

Some estimates put the number of biracial adoptees from Korea at more than 4,000 between 1953 and 1965. Data from South Korea’s health ministry suggests more than 7,000 mixed-race adoptees were sent abroad by the late 1960s, but that number includes disabled adoptees.

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