[Viewpoint]A Chuseok moon shines on all
Hong Seok-man, Lee Yun-ri, Lee Ji-seok and Park Geon-wu are South Korean athletes who have won gold medals at the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games being held in Beijing, China. However, their names are still unfamiliar to most of us. The Paralympics that opened on Sept. 6 and will continue until Sept. 17 has not captured the public’s attention.
Disabled people such as Natalia Partyka, a Polish table tennis player born without a right hand and forearm, and Natalie du Toit, an amputee swimmer from South Africa, greatly moved our hearts when they competed against able-bodied athletes in the Olympics, but their participation in the Paralympics barely keeps people interested in the event.
A few days ago, I received a small box delivered to my desk at the JoongAng Ilbo. I opened it to find five aloe soaps, white and round like the full moon. The sender was “Workplace of Hope.” I had received a call from the organization and was asked to buy soap made by the handicapped. And of course, I gave my consent to be sent the soaps. After receiving them, I immediately wired 50,000 won.
I got to know the Workplace of Hope, which employs disabled people, after purchasing yellow ocher soaps from them a few years ago. The unfamiliar voice on the phone asking for help was desperate, emphasizing the fact that it was a product made by the handicapped. I could not refuse. Of course, the soap was more expensive than similar products sold in the market. Moreover, I did not find it completely satisfying as it turns soft in water. Yet, using it, I felt my heart lighten.
I am sure other people have been convinced by similar solicitations and bought soap, candles or herbal teas. Most of us gladly pay extra money to help, but some say that mentioning the handicapped is a sales tactic used by able-bodied people to make a profit.
Probably to avoid being misunderstood, the soap box from the Workplace of Hope includes a letter containing the names of the disabled employees, their handicaps and photos of them making soap. That this information is included is evidence that we are living in a world of distrust and doubt. Perhaps, the handicapped at the Workplace of Hope are fighting two different prejudices.
The first is the prejudice against the disability itself, and the other is the prejudice of people who doubt their desperate efforts to overcome their disabilities and make an honest living.
Indifference and prejudice in the non-disabled are clearly problematic, but the businesses that employ the handicapped, such as the Workplace of Hope, need to change as well. For example, if they are in the soap business, they might want to consider handmade soaps instead of using machines to produce simple products. These days, handmade soaps are more popular and can be sold at higher prices. Organizations are lucky to find one or two patrons by making a hundred phone calls. Instead of such emotional marketing, they should compete proudly by producing better and more sophisticated products, with the special stories behind them.
Natalie du Toit and Natalia Partyka squarely competed against able-bodied athletes at the Olympic Games. Moreover, they added a message of hope to the soaps and candles made by the handicapped workers because they have shown they will never give up. Customers will spread the word about how great the products are from the Workplace of Hope and recommend them to friends.
The full moon of the Chuseok holiday is big and round to the able-bodied and the handicapped alike. If the person who looks up at it has a crooked heart, it will appear distorted. After all, what makes a person handicapped is not his body but his heart. We should reflect on our hearts during this full moon.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong