L’Oreal learns the beauty of volunteering

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L’Oreal learns the beauty of volunteering

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The quiet offices atop ASEM Tower don’t normally get dozens of visitors as young as four. Last Tuesday afternoon, though, with 50 children boisterously running around, the headquarters of L’Oreal Korea looked more like a kindergarten playground attended by young teachers in white aprons.
They had eaten lunch in a family restaurant downstairs and were looking around the office before taking a trip to the aquarium in the bustling commercial district of southern Seoul. The excited children were raring for an adventure with their “aunties” ― 145 volunteers at L’Oreal who assist group homes for abandoned and orphaned children.
The visit to L’Oreal headquarters was in celebration of “Love Day,” the one-year anniversary of a project the French cosmetics company started with Daum Foundation, a social welfare organization.
The L’Oreal volunteers have worked 1,000 hours for the children while the company has supported the group homes financially.
While most charity tends to go to large orphanages, which are able to generate more publicity, the 200 group homes scattered around Korea have remained a relatively unknown form of social welfare.
“Our aim was to find a blind spot in society,” said Klaus Fassbender, the CEO of L’Oreal Korea. “I jumped at the idea when a proposal to help children was suggested almost two years ago.”
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On Love Day last week, foster parents, who received the donations, reported their progress over the past year with the severely abused children, detailing the horrifying mental and psychological states of their kids when they were first brought to the group homes.
“The ‘parents’ are usually priests or nuns. They take up to five children in one household, and they grow up like an ordinary family, with a mom and a dad,” explained Lee Sun-ju, a brand manager.
Mr. Fassbender, a native of Hanover, is not new to helping children. Back in Germany, he organized an art program to instill creativity in deprived children. He also worked on a volunteer program in France to arrange vacations for sick children.
“In France there were only two volunteers. I was surprised to see 145 employees, more than 50 percent of our staff, signed up to volunteer for our charity project in Korea,” he said beaming.
Inspired by “Ureong Gakssi,” a Korean fairy tale about a magic snail secretly helping the needy, the L’Oreal employees visited the group homes while children were at school. They washed clothes, cleaned rooms, left gifts with notes and prepared birthday parties. The children began calling the secret volunteers “aunties,” and started corresponding with them.
Love Day was an occasion for the children to finally meet their aunties in person.
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“When a doe-eyed child looked up at me and said, ‘But, you look too young to be my auntie,’ I felt something swell inside,” said Kim Ji-yun, one of the volunteers whose job was to prepare birthday parties.
Ms. Kim said that working for needy children made her rethink the meaning of happiness in life. “The volunteer work is more than just helping children. We volunteers become very close while working there.”
In his office, with a panoramic view of skyscrapers, Mr. Fassbender keeps two snapshots of his “godchild,” a beaming boy with dark almond eyes from a group home in the mountains of Gangwon province called “Spring of Love Village.”
Nearby sits a framed Contract for Group Home Volunteers.
“Even if I wanted to tell you everything about my godchild, I made an oath not to speak his name or about him in public. All I can tell you is that I visit him at his home and he writes to me,” said Mr. Fassbender, taking out a sheet of neatly folded paper from an envelope. It has a crude pencil drawing of an angel on top of a house. “I’m supposed to be the angel, I guess,” he said, obviously touched.
This year he plans to increase the number of group homes by seven, but with discretion and caution.
“It’s a very personal and slow process ― for personal relationships to develop. I hope to see my godchild grow happy and healthy in the years to come.”


by Ines Cho

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