Expat volunteers work on their Seoul

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Expat volunteers work on their Seoul

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Conor Meagher (left) and Marie Park Foss (right), volunteers for the PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect) program, wash up after a meal they helped serve last Friday to homeless people. Photos by Moon Gwang-lip

Rachael Fox, a 26-year-old English teacher, got a phone call from a friend three months ago, who said that Fox may be interested in Volunteer for PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect), an online-based expat volunteer group in Korea.

Fox immediately checked out its Web site (www.idealist.org/en/org/169631-40) and discovered the group is doing the same volunteer work she used to do at home in Canada ? feeding the homeless.

She has attended every volunteer event available since, Fox said.

“I like doing it,” she said, after finishing distributing meal trays to hundreds of homeless people at the Resurrection Center near the Sookmyung Women’s University subway station in Seoul last Friday.

“I have time to do it. I like coming here and meeting new people,” she said. “It’s rewarding.”

She was one of the seven PLUR volunteers to help out at the center that evening. The center, run by the Anglican Church of Korea, has been providing free dinners for the homeless daily since it was founded in 1998.

Daniel Oh, a 28-year-old Korean American who organized the PLUR volunteer program last October, learned about the center several months ago and began to bring his friends.

For Conor Meagher, it was his second time to participate in the Feed the Homeless in Seoul project.

The 28-year-old English teacher from Kansas said it was much easier than the first time.

“When I first came here, I [was afraid] these people were not going to like me, but they were so thankful and so courteous,” he said. “That’s why I came back.”

Meagher said the activity has a fun factor. Some of the homeless try to befriend the foreign volunteers, speaking to them in English, and he also practices speaking Korean.

But most of the time he is focused on simply helping others, which is something Meagher tries to incorporate into his lifestyle.

“Some people go drink, some people go out to party. I do, too, but I also want to do other things,” he said.

The meal that day was provided at a cafeteria in the basement of the center. It went on for one hour as usual. Some of the foreign volunteers helped cook in the kitchen. Some served food, while others washed dishes or cleaned up afterwards.

Marie Park Foss, whose Korean name is Park Soo-mi, did the washing. A newcomer to the group, Foss is an adoptee who had returned here, her country of birth, as a Swede.

Foss said she was left on a street in Daegu by her biological mother when she was just a month old.

She was cared for by a foster mother in Gyeonggi Province for seven months with the help of an orphanage before being adopted by a Swedish family.

Despite some resentment she may feel toward Korea, she said she is pleased with her volunteer work at the center.

“I am still a Korean,” Foss said. “I live here.”

According to Oh, the Volunteer for PLUR program, whose membership is around 140 people, does other projects as well.

At other volunteer events, the members play with children at an orphanage and work at a senior citizens’ home, Oh said.

They also helped in the clean up efforts on the west coast after the huge oil spill in Taean several months ago.

New volunteers come to join PLUR through word of mouth or after they read notices that Oh posts at the Web site and on Facebook, he said.

The effort to feed the homeless in Seoul is one of the projects that Oh feels most attached to, he says.

“I grew up in Los Angeles, California, where homelessness is very rampant,” he said.

“I would see homeless people digging through the dumpsters for food. It was sad to see people digging in the trash for food.”

With most PLUR members speaking little Korean, people might wonder if the language barrier could impair their activity.

Lee Soo-beom, the manager at the center, said it has not been a big problem.

“They help us a lot,” Lee said. “We can communicate with each other by looking each other in the eye. We are working hand-in-glove.”

One of the homeless men who came to the center that day, who was on crutches, refused to give his name, saying only that he is 41 years old.

He said the food is only part of what those foreigners are doing for them.

“As you see, I walk on crutches,” he said. “Every time I come here, these people hold a meal tray for me and try to make me as comfortable as possible.

“I have seen many volunteers feeding us, but I have never seen people like these regarding me as a human being, not just a homeless person. I am grateful.”


By Moon Gwang-lip Staff Reporter [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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