Pastor mines potential of abandoned townThe library on the second floor of a run-down building next to the train station in Cheolam is not very big. In fact, there are only 10 small tables and about 5,000 books.
But for the 10 elementary school students who live in the nearly abandoned mining village located in the city of Taebaik in Gangwon province ― it’s the only place to read or study.
Korea’s largest mining city up to the 1980s, Taebaik has now nearly become a ghost city, with empty houses dotting the neighborhoods. The walls of buildings are ashen colored, stained over the years by fine coal powder drifting through the air.
It has been about two years since Won Ki-jun, a local pastor, opened up the small library and study room with the help of his friends. Since he came to Taebaik when he was 24 years old, he has been a key figure in making the area a better place to live.
For the past 20 years, Mr. Won served as the pastor of Taebaik Seorin Church, which has a tiny 15-member congregation. To the regional community, he is better known as a social activist.
After he completed divinity graduate school, Mr. Won went to Taebaik to help improve the rights of miners in 1985. He even spent 18 months in prison for leading strikes for miners. When he was released in 1991, he decided to focus on development projects.
One of those projects was establishing the Mining Area Society Research Center, which concentrated on creating special laws that would help revive abandoned mining cities. This led to the creation of a special law in 1995 that required the government to provide financial aid to abandoned mining cities in order to transition to other businesses such as tourism.
Between 1991 and 2000, Mr. Won ran an education facility for young disabled children. He also established the Korea Gambling Addiction Center, a rehabilitation center for gambling addicts (there is a large casino in the neighboring county of Jeongseon) that helps create alternatives to gambling.
Mr. Won’s latest activities involve recreating the district around Cheolam Station to resemble what the mining community looked like in the 1960s and 1970s. This project is part of a larger project to create a tourism belt in several neighboring mining cities. Called the “Mining Village Museum Project,” Mr. Won succeeded in getting the Gangwon provincial government last year to put up 100 billion won ($100 million) for the project.
“When this project is completed, this abandoned mining village will be reborn as a tourist attraction,” Mr. Won said.
by Hong Chang-eop, Wohn Dong-hee