Students learn, and scrub up, a bit of history

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Students learn, and scrub up, a bit of history

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PAJU, Gyeonngi ― Summer vacation started long ago, but for a group of students at Yulgok High School, there’s still work to be done: cleaning Buddha statues.
They meet every other week, bringing brooms and mops with them. Suitably equipped, they head out to historical spots to start scrubbing.
“I have been teaching Korean history for 18 years, but students are very unaware of the fact that there are important cultural properties very near us,” said Koo Jong-hyeong, a history teacher. Mr. Koo leads the student club Yeteo Babggi, meaning “exploring the relic sites,” taking the class around to historical sites during school breaks.
The mops just add a personal touch. “I was looking for a program that could actually get students involved with the local relics and asked the students to join in,” he said.
The program Mr. Koo found was one for volunteers, billed the “One relic, one custodian” project, which the Cultural Heritage Administration designed for schools and companies. Volunteers are assigned a historical property to look after. For at least a year, they visit the site regularly. In the autumn, they rake away fallen leaves, while in winter they sweep away the snow. During the spring and summer, they pluck weeds, scrub the moss off rocks and clean up around the sites.
For a year now, the Yulgok High students have been taking care of the Yongmiri Stone Standing Buddhas in Paju, Gyeonggi province. The statues were created during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and are designated Treasure No. 93. By bus, it takes the students 30 minutes to get from their school to the standing statues. Many of the students said they had no idea there were two 17-meter-tall (56-foot) granite Buddhas so near their school.
“I got to know more about the Buddha statues, since I come here so often,” said Lee Ji-won, 16, a Yeteo Balggi member. “Once we’re done cleaning, we study and talk about the relic and share what we’ve learned that day.”
On their most recent trip, the group went to the Yongmiri Stone Standing Buddhas to clean up the nearby bus stop and replace the old sign board with a new one.
Mr. Koo said he was glad more students were joining the club. It started with only seven members; it now has 18.
“We created about 10,000 plastic leaflets promoting our volunteer work and studies to pass out in the community,” Mr. Koo said. “The 11th graders in the club will also present a flash animation clip to other students, showing what they learned about the Buddha statues.
“I think it’s important that young people are learning about the importance of cultural relics,” he said.


by Park Jeong-ho
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