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Volunteers: The seeds of hope amid great sorrow

Posted April. 25, 2014 01:46,   


The family members of the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster lie on the floor, exhausted, or are on an IV drip, in the Jindo gymnasium. Many people are watching the large screen showing rescue efforts with a blank look as if they have no more energy to express anger. Some people carry meals, clean up the place, and collect laundry. They are volunteers – housewives, college students, and office workers -- from all across the country. With only a few hour sleep on a mattress at a nearby tent, they clean bathrooms and provide medical services. They also comfort the family members who weep whenever corpses are found.

The volunteers who drive vans for bereaved families in search of their child’s body from the gymnasium to the Paengmok Harbor are ordinary fathers from Ansan where the victims’ school is located. They who left their work behind to help the families said, “It’s so heartbreaking in that these people are my neighbors. I want to help them until they find their child’s body.” Some taxi drivers give a free ride from the Paengmok Harbor to a funeral site in Ansan, which is over 400 kilometers, every day for bereaved families.

Ten days have passed since the day when all Koreans hoped for a miracle. The Jindo gymnasium and the Paengmok harbor are now run by volunteers. Instead of the government that is not playing its role, some 10,000 volunteers are supporting the families on the site.

Many people want to share grief with the families at the group memorial alter for the victims. Until late at night, ordinary citizens visited the memorial alter in the Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall, which opened on Wednesday. Many cried and wept watching the pictures of the young students at the altar. The bulletin board at the entrance was full of tearful notes. Messages like “Hope you can go to a nice place” and “You are greener than leaves. Why are you here?… Even looking at greens outside through the window seems like a luxury to me” seem to comfort the bereaved families.

A volunteer shares what he or she has for the community without wishing a price. The United Nations sees that volunteering will be the key driver that addresses many global challenges. When Korea had one of the worst oil leaks in the sea off the coast of Taean, South Chungcheong Province, on Dec. 7, 2007, more than one million volunteers cleaned the oil band that covered the sea and saved Taean.

Our ancestors helped and shared each other when they were in trouble such as famine or natural disasters. The tradition of helping each other when in trouble, one of the four virtues of the community compact during the Joseon Dynasty, has been transformed into volunteer work today. I hope that this could be the seeds of hope that save the Korean community that is in deep sorrow. – From the Paengmok Harbor.