Going over the threshold together

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Going over the threshold together


I only noticed the doorsill after I had my child. When my child was learning how to walk and tripped on the threshold, only then did I realize that it even existed. It took me 35 years to understand that the threshold can be an obstacle to some people. I changed my perception of the word “sill” after meeting Bernard Ollivier two years ago. The French man walked across the Silk Road more than a decade ago. He then founded an organization named the Seuil Association, with “seuil” meaning doorsill in French.

Seuil is a group designed to help juvenile delinquents through a unique method. The delinquents are sent to a foreign country where French is not used and are then required to walk 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) over the course of three months. That works out to walking 17 kilometers per day on average. After completing the three-month trail, they are sent home. In fact, I am impressed that the French Ministry of Justice adopted such an innovative idea.

Is the walking trip effective in rehabilitating and correcting juvenile delinquents? Members of the Seuil Association attended the World Trails Conference last week in Jeju and explained the program. It costs 900 euro, or $1,220, for each juvenile delinquent to spend a day in a correctional facility, but the Seuil program costs only 300 euro a day. While the recidivism rate for juvenile offenders is 85 percent, it drops to 15 percent for those who complete the Seuil trip. Each young offender is paired with an adult for the three-month trip, which is why the Seuil program works; the teenager spends three months walking with a complete stranger. Instead of rehabilitation and correction, the stranger offers healing and companionship. While a young person might be hesitant in front of a threshold, a grown-up can walk over it and stretch out a helping, healing hand.

Suh Myung-sook, the president of Jeju Olle, a hiking trail on Jeju Island, told me a story. “A middle-aged man came up to me and suddenly bowed,” he said. “He said that the Jeju Olle trails changed his son. He had promised to buy him a mobile phone if he walked the trail for one week. At first, the boy whined and pouted, but his attitude gradually changed. On the last day, the boy said, ‘Dad, let me carry your backpack.’ ”

My child no longer trips over the doorsill. But higher and more challenging thresholds await in life. Whenever he is faced with a threshold, I will take his hand and we will pass over it together, until the day that I no longer have the energy to go over the threshold and my child offers his own helping hand.

*The author is a culture and sports news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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