[Viewpoint]Come on Koreans, pony up

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[Viewpoint]Come on Koreans, pony up

I have a quiz for you.

Who is the person described by the following characteristics?

1. She has been frugal all her life and has saved money for a very long time.

2. She sells snacks or runs an eatery in a college neighborhood.

3. She became a widow when she was still young.

4. She has always felt badly that she could not afford an education.

5. And she will gladly donate her fortune to a university or a hospital.

I am sure you can guess that I am talking about the familiar campus-area fixture, the grandma who sells rice rolls or makes soup for a living; or she could be the neighborhood seamstress. What’s important is that we have so many of these generous women in our society.

Their generosity is very much appreciated and respected, but I am not completely pleased by such news.

Frankly, I’m upset and cannot help asking why these hardworking grandmothers have to be the most notable givers in our society. There are so many people who enjoy luxurious lifestyles - business owners and entrepreneurs, the well off and the well educated - but we hardly hear about them when it comes to charitable donations.

Let’s look at some of these grandmothers whose generosity have been featured in the media. The late Lee Bok-sun accumulated savings of 5 billion won selling rice rolls and running an inn all her life. And she gave her fortune to Chungnam National University.

Kim Bok-sun left 280 million won to Kyung Hee University when she passed away last year, and she also donated her body to the university hospital for scientific use.

A notoriously foul-mouthed grandma who ran a seafood restaurant in Jinhae gladly gave away 100 million won last year. Yun Jeong-hye, who owns a fabric store, gave 1 billion won of her savings to the Catholic University of Korea. Lee Myung-gi worked at a textile factory for 30 years and bought a 250 million-won apartment; she donated the apartment to Dongguk University.

There are many more stories of generous givers whose generosity puts to shame selfish people.

In January, 84-year-old Kim Chun-hee donated 5 million won to the Community Chest of Korea. She receives 445,000 won per month in basic living and welfare benefits for the elderly, but still saves from her meager budget to help others.

Kim Gun-ja and Hwang Geum-ja, former “comfort women” forced to work as wartime sex slaves to the Japanese military, have created a scholarship fund.

Of course, in addition to these generous women, there were others in just slightly better circumstances who have also given to those in need. In fact, I know a number of people who regularly give contributions to help the unfortunate.

Some help people in need through various social organizations and others regularly send money for poor children in Africa, Central Asia and South America. Some of my friends say that they feel a need to help by sending small contributions when they watch special charity programs on television.

However, we have a long way to go. Generally, our society seems content to hide behind the generosity of the grandmas.

When the press praised a young actress’s discreet generosity, some were busy posting insulting remarks that cost them nothing.

A few days ago, the Beautiful Fund announced the 2007 Korean Donation Index. Last year, 55 percent of Koreans made a donation, 13.6 percent fewer than in 2005. Total donations as a percentage of the gross domestic product is only one third of that of the United States. Moreover, the percentage of individual donations were 40 percent as large.

As the weather is gets increasingly colder, the average middle-class citizen who has a job and receives a regular paycheck needs to come forward.

Why do the givers have to be either business giants such as Samsung and Hyundai or the frugal and hardworking elderly? Where are the people in the middle?

When we get over the financial crisis, we might want to consider adopting a system of giving through payroll deductions.

Please allow these old ladies to spend their lifelong savings to live comfortably.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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