The House of Sharing, a shelter based in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, for wartime sexual slavery victims – better known as “comfort women” – experienced a rare flurry of overseas donations over the weekend.

The donations were small, with each donor sending between US$5 and US$10.

Since the first donation arrived through its PayPal account last week, 161 donors from all across the world contributed about US$3,300 in total over the weekend. The overseas donations have been continuing.

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Nationalities of donors vary. Americans, Europeans, Asians and even Latin Americans joined the worldwide online campaign to help the Korean survivors of Japan’s wartime crime.

Christina Duran, a BTS fan based in Arizona, said she made the donation on behalf of the group.

“We believe that history should be remembered, even the darkest periods of times, so we can learn and grow together as people and in the future avoid such atrocities,” she said.

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Some fans posted social media messages after the donation.

“I just donated! I hope all these women are now able to find peace in their lives and live with the dignity they deserve,” another fan, Trish, wrote on Twitter.

“Even a small donation could make a difference if we do this together,” another fan wrote.

Donations for “comfort women” have gone viral on BTS social media accounts.

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The online campaign was initially sparked by an overseas BTS fan who translates Korean into English, to help fellow BTS ARMY members understand the band’s music.

“After BTS member Jimin came to be spiralled into a controversy, as the T-shirt he wore years ago has rekindled a belated debate in Japanese media outlets, some BTS fans began to discuss what to do,” the fan, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Korea Times. She said she lives overseas but declined to give any further details about herself.

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The fan felt Jimin’s T-shirt didn't intend to hurt the Japanese victims of nuclear warfare, but to commemorate Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

“Japanese media lashed out at BTS for fanning the anti-Japan sentiment which led to the cancellations of their schedule in Japan. Many overseas BTS fans, particularly those who live outside Asia, are not familiar with East Asian history, not to mention Korea’s tragic modern history. Naturally various opinions were presented from within, after the T-shirt controversy. Some concerned Korean fans tried to narrow the gap between Korean and overseas fans’ understandings of East Asian history. The ‘comfort women’ issue was addressed as part of Korea’s tragic modern history and some BTS ARMY members were shocked and saddened for the ordeals the Korean grandmothers had gone through during the war.”

The flurry of overseas donations came as a surprise to activists and volunteers working at the House of Sharing.

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“We’ve received donations from overseas for decades but we have no previous experience like this. So many donors from so many countries sent money for the war crime victims,” a volunteer at the shelter said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

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Currently, seven survivors of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery live at the shelter. They are all in their 90s.

Established initially in Seoul’s western region of Mapo-gu in 1992, the House of Sharing was relocated to its current location in 1995. In the shelter, each former “comfort woman” has her own room, with a shared restaurant where meals are served three times per day. There is a small museum inside the facility as well.

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Ahn Shin-kwon, head of the shelter, said the surge in donations was a nice surprise.

“On November 16, we found several people sent donations through PayPal and some of them identify themselves as members of BTS’ fan club ARMY in the message,” Ahn said.

“Whenever we receive donations from overseas donors, we send a ‘thank you’ note to each of them. As we had received a flurry of donations from overseas that day, which was rare, we were wondering how they came to know about the House of Sharing and ‘comfort women’ and got an answer from one of the donors. She told us she came to hear about the wartime victims through BTS’ official Twitter account as someone posted information there and the donation campaign has been gaining momentum since then.”

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This article was originally written by Kang Aa-young for The Korea Times