Inspiring volunteers all around us
“I felt helpless. I had my doubts that not much would change for these people 100 years on. But I made a pledge that if just one person needed my help, the reason and value of my presence here today would be meaningful.”
These are the words of 50-year-old nurse Baik Yeong-sim, whom the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade awarded the Lee Tae-seok honor for her medical service in Africa for more than 20 years. We haven’t heard such sincere remarks from any high-ranking official, politician nor presidential candidate. In 1990, when Baik was working as a nurse at Korea University Hospital, she left for Kenya as a part of a missionary medical team. Four years later, she moved to Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. Her constant efforts led to the construction of elementary schools, hospitals and nursing schools in the impoverished countries. She is currently battling thyroid cancer but still devotes her time to the cause.
The Lee Tae-seok Award is not the most publicized, but there are so many Koreans working all over the world following in the noble footsteps of the late Father Lee Tae-seok. On Nov. 19, I met Dr. Choi Hong-gyu in a rural village in Tanzania. The solar energy expert graduated from Sogang University with a major in electronic engineering and received his master’s and doctoral degrees from University of Arizona in energy engineering. The New York resident left for Africa two years ago to promote his “solar missionary” work. In Tanzania, 90 percent of its 43 million citizens do not enjoy the benefit of electricity. Today, per capita electricity usage in Korea is 8,000 kilowatt hours, while it is 90 kilowatt hours in Tanzania.
Because of the poor economic conditions there, he figured that expensive high-tech solar energy technology was not what they needed. He is now working like a green salesman, demonstrating affordable solar energy devices to curious Tanzanians, young and old. He operated a wooden box covered in plastic and equipped with batteries, and an LED light bulb flashed on. The audience applauded joyfully. He says that he is teaching local students about the technology needed to build the device.
In a border village between Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo, I met Yun Hyo-jin, 27, and Lee Seung-hwan, 22, volunteers sponsored by the Eunpyeong Angel House in Seoul. Their service is full of challenges, but they seem to be very happy. On my way back home two days later, I met a Korean couple in their 60s waiting to transfer at the Doha International Airport in Qatar. They retired five years ago and settled in Uganda. They have founded an elementary school and hired teachers to educate local children. In our society, there are so many people who have heart-warming and inspiring stories. I wish we heard about them every day.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun