Song Jae-hee and Ji So-yeon hope to encourage others to volunteer
“Children need to receive education in order to have a better chance in life, so ultimately they can be happy, right?” said Song. “But they need to realize this for themselves, and that’s why they need education, which the foundation also deems important.”
The Um Hong Gil Human Foundation specializes in building schools for children living in the most remote parts of the Himalayas who have little to no access to the education they need. The foundation was founded by expert climber Um Hong-gil in 2008.
In an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily, Song and Ji were passionate about the NGO’s work, and shared that it wasn’t their first time getting involved with such organizations.
Song was an honorary ambassador of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica) until 2017, but when he first started working with the agency in 2013, his priority wasn’t helping people. He first came into contact with the organization when he appeared on the reality show “Koica Road,” which aired on the TV Chosun network in 2014. The show took stars on trips with medical experts and had them help take care of patients in Africa. Song thought it was a good chance to travel to Africa, which he’d never been to before. But when he actually met the people there, his perspective changed.
“When I actually got there, I had to help. I had to do whatever I could do to help them,” Song said.
He added that while he was aware that some people criticize NGOs for helping people who live overseas when there were plenty of people within Korea who could also use their help, it isn’t that simple. “When you start drawing lines like that, the reasons [for not helping them] could be endless,” he said. “But when you see with your own eyes the dire conditions these people live in, you can’t just ignore them.”
As the honorary ambassadors of the foundation, the couple plans to be hands-on in its many programs. Their highlight for this year is going to Nepal in October to help workers building school facilities up in the mountains and meet the children who will be studying there.
“I was able to get this opportunity due to my husband, but it’s difficult to do these things unless someone tells you about it,” Ji said. “Since I was given this chance, I’ll do my best.”
“I see that although people do want to help, they don’t know how to or where to start,” she added. “For them, we can share information about good volunteer programs that we can be a part of, just like we tell people about the delicious foods we eat, or the good places we visit. For instance, actor Claudia Kim introduced me to a volunteer work opportunity distributing briquettes to low-income people who do not have boilers in their homes to stay warm in winter. Kim learned about the opportunity from rapper Sean and then asked me to join. That’s how the good deeds spread.”
Before they head off to Nepal, the first step Song will take as the ambassador is to participate in the DMZ Peace March in July. For the past seven years, 120 university students have walked 350 kilometers (217 miles) along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas for the 15-day march.
“Although your gestures might not be grand or world-changing, you do things that you need to do to be happy,” Song said. “You don’t do things because you’re happy, you do those things so you could become happy.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]