Monday, 9 August 2010


I’ve lived in South Korea, on and off for about 4 years and I have always wanted to volunteer. Soup kitchen, orphanage, cleaning up oil stained beaches, anything really. I am very fortunate and have a great life and I have long had a sense of obligation, a sense that I have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than me, a sense that I can do something that will make somebody else’s life easier or better. But I never found the time. I often found excuses but I never really made the effort needed to get involved. The city I live in doesn't have any obvious volunteering opportunities and the language barrier makes finding somewhere that much more difficult. See what I mean about excuses?

Other people in the city however do make a difference, notably organising charity events in the build up to Christmas to help the poor wretches that find themselves waking up on Christmas morning without parents or presents. 2009 was to be different for me. I had participated in the charity events, the bowling and quiz nights but little sacrifice is really involved in drinking a few beers, throwing a few balls down a lane or showing off just how much TV I watch or how many hours I spend aimlessly floating in cyberspace by answering questions in a bar, with more beers.

2009 was to be the year that changed my life forever and as dramatic as it sounds it is completely true. As Christmas approached, money had been raised and most people had played their part but as everyone sat back with a smile of accomplishment on their faces at the generous amount of money raised, smiles that are fully deserved I hasten to add, Santa was lamenting a lack of elves, elves who would go around town with the jar of money raised looking for bargain basement toys and sweets for the orphans to open on Christmas morning. My girlfriend and I heard about the vacancy and stepped up. We trudged around town with a paltry budget per kid, eventually managing to find a few little gifts for every one of the 200 kids.

Twas the night before Christmas that Santa, with real beard, dyed an unnatural white, pulled up outside our apartment and collected the toys in his ‘Christmas suit red’ Hyundai. A  real 21st century twist on the classic sleigh / workshop version of the story if there ever was one.

The following morning we made it to the first of 3 orphanages and helped dole out the presents to the kids. From the moment I saw that first orphan on Christmas morning my life was to change forever. The production line of kids moved along choosing which colour toothbrush they wanted, what style of gloves they would prefer from the styles the 1,000 KRW shop had (the Korean $1 store) had when the we descended upon them and seemingly bought  the entire stock. They also received a cup of noodles, some sweets and a notebook and pen.

Fast forward to today, Saturday 11th July 2010 and I have just returned home from one of the now 4 orphanages (we found out that there was another orphanage) in Jeonju, South Korea that the group my girlfriend Christina started makes regular visits to. We, a mixture of expats and locals visit these kids to help provide them with a bit of human contact aside from the orphanage staff, who do a wonderful and never ending (and I'm sure at times thankless) job. Since the group began in January this year we have been arranging visits once a month to each orphanage on a rotation basis.

but a plan to play games, to make origami cranes, let th talk and generally follow the lead of the kids and just spend time interacting with these kids, some of whom lead such sheltered lives that on more than one occasion I have been asked if I am Korean, which might not sound so crazy unless you know that I am a 6ft 2in Welshman and frankly couldn’t look less Korean.

Volunteering at these orphanages gives you a different outlook on life and all of the volunteers will hopefully take something something slightly more meaningful away with their time in this strange and wonderful country inevitably comes to an end.

Having lived in Korea for 4 years my time is almost up and where ever I am in the world I will no longer sit on the sidelines looking and waiting for opportunities to volunteer and then back out because something else came up, not now I know how good it feels. At the same time I can’t help but worry about the future of our little group and for the children who seem to have so much fun when we are there. We, that is to say my girlfriend and I are currently looking for people who might be able to take over the administrative role that she so fabulously and tirelessly fulfills in order for the group to survive.

If you want to hear more about the group or if you are in the city or the region and want to get involved you can find the group on Facebook by searching for ‘Neighbourly, Neighborly, 이웃 사람답게 Jeonju’ or by clicking here

Rob McGovern

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