I started donating to World Vision when I was 18 years old. I was surfing the internet one day when I came across them and there was a page where I could donate.
I saw how World Vision were helping people who were in difficult circumstances. It made me realise that there are a lot of people who are struggling and need help.
My football career was starting to take off at the time. I was doing something that I loved, I had money, and I had a family around me. But a lot of these people had nothing. It did not seem fair.
So, I started making monthly donations.
Two years later, I played in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. As my name is quite unique in Korea and as my profile had increased from playing at the tournament, the people from World Vision called me and asked: ‘Are you really Sung-yueng Ki?’
At first, I did not want to put my name out publicly that I was making these donations. It was never my intention to be seen to be doing them, I just wanted to help people.
I am a Christian and the Bible says you have to help others around you – and that you have to do so discreetly. But World Vision explained that when I give a donation and make it public, it can inspire other people to do the same.
I then met representatives from World Vision and we started to make plans about how we can help more people in difficult circumstances. We started off building schools and medical centres in Africa. We also covered the costs of medical bills for people who were in critical condition in hospital, especially for young children whose parents couldn’t afford life-saving surgeries.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, when I was in Spain, my wife and I donated $30,000 worth of medical equipment. As my wife, Hye-jin Han, is a well-known actress in Korea, by donating together, we can have an even greater influence.
After 13 years working with World Vision, we have now embarked on a new project to support 30 promising young footballers in Korea. They range from 10 to 18-years-old and come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Some of the players do not have parents and they need someone in life to give them advice and guidance. When you are young, it is important to have a dream. But because a lot of these young people come from such difficult backgrounds, they do not have a dream – and I find that incredibly sad.
I donate between $4,000 and $5,000 a month to help support them – which helps buy food, accommodation and equipment for football – and will last for the next five years.
If these players get a professional contract and end up succeeding in football, then that’s great. But it’s not the most important thing – what is more important is that they succeed as human beings; that they have the motivation to chase their dream, that they give everything to become a better person.
I try to coach them as well, so that I can give them some experience and learnings. It is not easy to meet them on a consistent basis at the moment because I have matches every week and we have a lot of games squeezed into the calendar because of when the World Cup is being played. But once the Korean season has finished, I will see them again more regularly.
It is important to spend time with them face to face. If I make a commitment to help them but I do not meet them, then what is the point of all this? I need to personally listen in order to understand their difficulties, and how we can help overcome them.
“If these players get a professional contract and end up succeeding in football, then that’s great. But it’s not the most important thing – what is more important is that they succeed as human beings.”
When I was young, Ji-sung Park was my boyhood hero. I imagine how excited I would have been if he had spent time with my younger self and how much motivation that would have given me. I hope it gives them the same motivation.
When I was younger, my goals were to play in the Premier League, to play in the World Cup and keep improving as a player. Now, my target is a little different. I’m 33 and I’m approaching the end of my career.
My goal now is to help people and make a positive impact. I do not know exactly what I will do after my playing days are over, but I know I will still be involved in football – so that I can help others and give them hope.