He’ll climb mountains to help others

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He’ll climb mountains to help others

For the average mountain climber, it takes at least eight hours to reach the peak of Mount Seorak. However, Im Gi-jong, 46, needs only six hours on rocky slopes, even while carrying a load as heavy as 40 kilograms and wearing only slippers.
Mr. Im has been doing this job since he was 16, after his parents died when he was 13. He delivers necessities to mountain houses or resting areas that are not reachable by helicopters or cable cars. He’s even carried a fridge and mountain climbers too injured to come back down alone. Everyone agrees that fetching Mr. Im is the fastest and safest way to get anything delivered up and down the mountain.
What Mr. Im is most proud of, however, has nothing to do with his work. But he hesitates to speak about it: He volunteers and donates more than half his income to the disabled and the elderly who live alone. Though the fatigue from work causes him to collapse into bed as soon as he gets home, Mr. Im has never stopped helping out those in need.
Mr. Im lives in a tiny cell, whose monthly rent is 80,000 won (about $70). “My life in the past was just all about poverty. That’s why I want to help out the people in need more,” he says.
In 1983, Mr. Im married his wife, who is mentally disabled, and had a son the following year who also had the same problem.
“When I first saw my wife, I was so sad to see her family being hard on her. So I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to protect her all her life.’ I couldn’t afford a wedding ceremony, so we just had a marriage registration. But I’m going to give my wife a chance to wear the veil,” he says.
Mr. Im had to send his son to a nursing home when his neighbors complained that the baby was ruining the rice paddies while Mr. Im was out to work during the day. That was eight years ago, and that’s when he started his charity work.
“After sending my kid over, I couldn’t help but think I was doing this only for the sake of myself. Then I mulled over what I can do, and bought a whole pile of cookies and snacks worth 200,000 won to the nursery home, to share with other kids as well,” Mr. Im recalls.
At first, he was not sure whether he was spending too much or not. But when he saw the happy faces of the children eating the cookies, Mr. Im forgot all such concerns and started to find more places he could help.
Mr. Im now visits two nursing homes a month, driving trucks full of cookies and sweets, becoming the biggest individual donor at these places. He also sends rice to five seniors who live alone in the neighboring city of Sokcho.
Last year, he took 35 older people to a hot spring. “The trip took all of my monthly income. Strange thing is, the more you spend for others, the more you get to earn,” Mr. Im says. His plan next year is to offer a scholarship to a teenage student in need.
In the mountain house serviced by Mr. Im, a soda can costs 2,000 won, when the usual price is 600 won on flat land. But it’s a fair price considering the work required to haul it up the mountain and how that money gets used by Mr. Im to help those in need.

by Kwon Hyuk-joo
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