Lending a helping hand in your community
A group of expats from the Yeoksam Global Village Center, an affiliate of the Seoul Global Center, is an exemplary model of the “good neighbor” ethos.
The group volunteers at St. Mary’s Hospital in Gangnam, southern Seoul, on the third Saturday of each month, when they help with the preparation of medical kits, clean the facility and spend time with young patients.
The volunteers made their twelfth visit to the hospital in mid-February.
Mark Nola, one of the newest volunteers, said he was excited about the day’s activities.
On Feb. 19, the American went to a playroom with other volunteers, including Elana Sifry and her daughter Nata Sifry, the youngest volunteer of the day, where young patients were waiting.
By the time the volunteers got there, the children had already taken their places around the work tables. At first, the children acted somewhat reserved in front of some unfamiliar faces when they introduced themselves.
But their eyes soon became filled with amusement and curiosity as the foreign volunteers set up board games on the tables.
As Nata Sifry, who is the same age as many of the patients, started to explain how to play one game in English, the kids could barely sit still.
In a short time, the patients, their parents and the volunteers were mingling freely with each other.
“I’m so happy to see my child having such a good time with other patients and the volunteers when he looks like he doesn’t suffer from his conditions,” said a mother of one of the young patients at the hospital.
Another group of volunteers dispatched to the BMT School for Children on the 20th floor of the hospital went through a health checkup before they began.
BMT refers to bone marrow transplant, and the patients on this floor have more serious diseases such as leukemia, which render them particularly vulnerable to any type of virus. For this reason, only healthy people who do not show any symptoms of a cold or fever can volunteer here.
Before entering the ward, volunteers are required to change into slippers, wash their hands and put on masks.
Here, the patients made toys with Play-Doh and paper and sang songs with the volunteers. While listening to the teachers’ instructions, the young patients, wearing masks and hygiene caps, were eager to practice speaking in English.
Among the volunteers were two English teachers in Seoul. Teaching children’s classes during the weekdays is draining, they said, but they look forward to these Saturdays each month.
Another group of volunteers helps clean the facility and prepares medical kits.
Cristina Confalonieri, a well-known TV personality on the talk show “Misuda,” and Han Hee-kyong, the head of the Yeoksam Global Village Center, lead the volunteers at the BMT School at St. Mary’s Hospital.
What they do is clearly important, Confalonieri said, and she believes that simply spending time with the young patients - allowing them to forget for even a afternoon why they are at the hospital - is reward enough.
Confalonieri spoke about a young girl who was recovering from surgery. Even before Confalonieri said goodbye, “[the young girl] asked me when we would come back. I promised her that I will come back next month and she said she was going to wait for me. I know I will wait for the day I see her again as well.”
Confalonieri added an important message she learned from volunteer activities: It’s not just about helping others, but helping yourself in many ways, since you receive so much more in return than what you can offer to your neighbors.
Those interested in volunteering at St. Mary’s Hospital can visit the Yeoksam Global Village Center’s Web site at http://global.seoul.go.kr/yeoksam or contact Han Heek-yong at (02) 3453-9038.
Along with the Global Village Centers, the Seoul Global Center organizes volunteer programs to provide chances to help out in the local community.
To check out ongoing and upcoming opportunities with the Seoul Global Center, visit the Web site at http://global.seoul.go.kr.
The following volunteer groups and charitable organizations are more issue- or interest-specific, and all provide the chance to meet and work with both local Koreans and expats.
HOPE stands for Helping Others Prosper through English. It is a non-profit non-government organization and is run by both expats and Koreans.
With the aim of providing equal access to English education for underprivileged children in Seoul, HOPE was launched in May 1998. Currently, 27 foreign teachers and 20 Koreans are volunteering with the organization.
Through partnerships with other like-minded non-profit organizations, HOPE has facilitated English classes at 20 sites, including welfare and childcare centers across the city, where volunteer teachers give English classes to children from low-income families.
Over 150 children have benefitted so far from the organization’s efforts.
HOPE is seeking individuals looking for a life-enriching opportunity to work for a good cause. Those who are interested in volunteering as an English teacher can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
PLUR stands for Peace, Love, Unity & Respect. Its members volunteer in their local communities and with other NGOs dealing with issues including poverty and street children.
Volunteers for the Seoul-based group serve at a soup kitchen, distribute food to the homeless around Seoul Station, and visit orphanages to spend time with and help the children.
To learn more, send an e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or search for “Volunteer for PLUR” on Facebook.
HOUSE OF SHARING
One of the main goals of the House of Sharing is to spread awareness of the sex slavery campaign imposed on Korean women during the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945.
Volunteers can work independently with the House of Sharing doing different kinds of work, including helping with the group’s English materials and spending time with and witnessing the living histories of former “comfort women,” victims of the Japanese military’s system of sex slavery.
For more information, visit www.houseofsharing.org or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
To arrange a visit, contact the group by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ANIMAL RESCUE KOREA
Animal Rescue Korea provides animal-lovers with an excellent opportunity to help find homes for stray and abandoned pets and assist animals in need.
Animal Rescue Korea helps rescue and find homes and facilitate adoptions.
It is a great meeting place for pet-sitting as well.
Since its launch in 2007, the group’s members have visited a no-kill animal shelter in Asan, Chungcheong Province, every Saturday, cleaning the facility and playing with the animals. Anyone can apply to foster or adopt cats, dogs, birds, rabbits and other smaller creatures in need of a good home.
For further information on the group, visit their Web site, www.animalrescuekorea.org, check out their Facebook page by searching for “Animal Rescue Korea” or send an e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Michelle Kang Contributing writer [email@example.com]