[FOUNTAIN] Poverty Remains, as Does Hope

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[FOUNTAIN] Poverty Remains, as Does Hope

Reading the nostalgic poem "Hillside Village" written by Choi Ha-rim in the 1970s, we thought that those shantytowns had vanished, consigned to memory. Many people over 40, who these days live in comfortable apartments, may have spent their youth in a shantytown. People once swarmed under the low roofs of shacks, but then we all had hope. Because of hope, we lived busily, succeeded in joining the middle class and moving up into an apartment. A group of famous photographers recently held an exhibition on the shantytowns of the 1960s and 70s, calling their exhibition "The Gray of the Early Dawn." The photographers' cameras captured the human affection and hope of those days, despite the poverty, and immortalized them in black and white.

Yet, we are surprised to find that the shantytown, that we thought had disappeared, still exists - and not just in our memories. Many of us read the special reports about Nangok, a shantytown in southern Seoul, recently published in the JoongAng Ilbo. Residents in Nangok line up to use the single neighborhood toilet every morning. Shops selling fuel briquettes and penny-candy stores are still seen in this slum. In Nangok, there is no hope: Unemployment has become a serious, perennial problem for its residents. People are not motivated to work, falling into the swamp of poverty out of extreme despair and worry for the future. The report was heartbreaking.

After the end of the Korean War, shacks started appearing in central Seoul. They were removed in the 1960s so the area could be developed, and the residents moved up onto the hillsides, where they could more easily find places to live. As economic development opened the floodgates, people poured into Seoul from the rural areas, and shantytowns began to form. Shantytowns in Seoul were not permanent homes for the poor, but were rather a halfway house for those heading from the country into the city, and leaving poverty behind for the middle class. High scholastic enthusiasm, devotion to work and government-driven development led most residents out of the shantytowns. Yet, some who failed to pick the fruits of development failed to break the chain of poverty.

After the hopeless living conditions in Nangok gained front-page coverage on Korea's biggest daily, residents of the shantytown earned hope, because so many volunteered to help. Such sympathy and warmheartedness are not only hope for Nangok but hope for our entire society. It is a great joy to know that in our society people try to walk together, taking the hands of those falling behind, rather than trying to advance alone. The bright moon that used to shine onto the shantytowns in the past still sheds its gentle light on our society today.

by Lee Kyeung-chul

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