Celebrating our citizen heroesNoh Geum-ja, 65, has been looking after poor children and senior citizens for 34 years in Cheongju, North Chungcheong. Upon receiving a medal of honor from President Lee Myung-bak for her charity work, she said she helped others for her own happiness.
Noh was among 24 recipients of the medal of honor. Others included the late priest Lee Tae-seok, famously called Sudan’s Schweitzer; 87-year-old former comfort woman Hwang Geum-ja, who donated her life savings of 100 million won to go to student scholarships; 51-year-old Kwang Kyung-hwan, who has been helping needy neighbors despite not having hands; and Park Jong-weol and Ahn Hyo-sook, a couple who has been traveling to poor regions across the nation to provide free eye glasses.
The award was established to discover and celebrate hidden heroes who have helped and saved lives through their charity and aid work. They are nominated by average citizens through the Internet and by post, are short-listed and then chosen by a civilian committee. It is a refreshing idea, considering previous government awards had mostly been led by government officials.
Noh said her charity had been self-gratifying. But many lives have been made happier because of her. If we look around, our society has so many better sides than the corruption and individualism we see and hear on the news. We must uncover more stories of these citizen heroes and be inspired to follow them.
The United States has a long tradition of showing respect and appreciation to heroes. President Barack Obama recently awarded Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry with the highest military honor for his brave actions in a 2008 fire fight in Afghanistan that cost him his right hand. Obama showed respect to the hero by shaking his prosthetic hand. The White House invited injured soldiers and their families to celebrate Independence Day.
During the State of the Union in January, the first lady invites citizen heroes and honors them for their extraordinary service to society. Daniel Hernandez, a college intern in U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ office, who administered first aid on the congresswoman after she was shot in Tucson, was among the guests this year.
Back in Korea, the people’s award had 361 nominations even though they were received for just a month. There would be a lot more undiscovered heroes around us if we were to show the proper respect and appreciation for their heroics.