Lessons in volunteerism

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Lessons in volunteerism

After the Orlando nightclub shooting, I met 30-year-old Catherine Lowless in the city’s downtown on June 14. At the memorial for the victims, where people set up candles and messages, she was handing out water bottles. She said, “I usually volunteer to provide meals to the homeless, but today, I came to help those who came to pay respect to the victims.” She said that she was especially saddened as most of the victims were so young and that she wanted to help anyway she could.

Jeanette Holloway, 36, was praying at the memorial. She said she prayed for consolation for the victims’ families and friends and for courage to get through the difficult time. “I could not stay at home. I wanted to meet those in pain and pray together,” she said.

The next morning, I went to the Camping World Stadium, where an assistance center for the families and friends of the victims was set up.

I entered the stadium and spotted an elderly man standing next to dozens of boxes of water bottles, offering them to visitors. He was also volunteering to help victims’ families. Orlando municipal workers and medical staff offered one-on-one counseling sessions for the victims’ families, and volunteers were helping however they could.

The worst mass shooting in U.S. history has left grievous wounds. Orlando may seem to have returned to life as usual, but pain and panic can still be found. In the lobby of the hotel where I was staying on June 14, television news reported that the assailant was smiling as he was shooting. The receptionist was speechless and turned her head from the screen. The owner of a Korean restaurant I visited on June 15 said that the city felt muted after the terrorist attack, and that customers had clearly decreased.

But behind the pains and wounds were the good hearts that wanted to provide help. Lowless was offering water and Holloway prayed for the victims and survivors. Volunteers assisted the families who lost loved ones. I may have been a stranger but I could feel their compassion.

Working as a Washington correspondent, many of my fantasies of the United States were proven wrong. I thought the United States was a model of parliamentary politics but found factional discords. I also discovered the cancerous presence of racial conflicts even more intense than Korea’s regional antagonism. Nevertheless, the volunteerism in overcoming pains together was certainly exemplary.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jun. 18, Page 26


*The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

CHAE BYUNG-GUN

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