Saturday, August 28, 2010

On the Spot Experience Living With The Needy

Many parishes during the summer months give students the opportunity  to do volunteer work at Kkottongnae, a Christian community providing the homeless and the abandoned with care and love in the hope they will realize the love of God and find peace as children of God. 

The Ohmy News had an article on the experience of a  high school girl who was asked by her mother if  interested in going on summer camp to the village to do volunteer work. Not knowing what to expect  she went to the Internet to check out  Kkottongnae (the Korean word for Flower village). She learned that it was a place where the handicapped, the sick and the old, and those who have been abandoned by society go to be cared for by the community.

Never having spent time in her young life doing any service for another, she decided to spend two nights and three days doing just that. It was a three hour trip and when she arrived, she met others from other parishes that came with the same intention. The motto, which she saw often:  "It is God's grace, even if you only have the strength to beg for food,"  was explained during the orientation talk: there are many who do not even have the  strength to beg. And that  evening, to give the volunteers a better understanding of the difficulties of the handicapped, they were led through an exercise that allowed them to experience what it was like not being able to see or to walk.

The next day she was assigned to help the nutritionist prepare the meals. She was hoping for a different kind of service but was made to realize that eating is one of the greatest services. The first thing they did was wash the dishes and clean the kitchen after breakfast. Next, with three other volunteers, they  prepared the garlic and scallions and worked on the noon meal with the nutritionist.  After the meal, they went to talk  to the members of the community. They went from room to room, talking and showing concern for each person. In the beginning, it was not always easy, but what surprised her most, as she continued to chat with them, was the joy many of them were experiencing despite their handicaps. It was an experience that will be with her for a lifetime; she is even envisioning another trip to the village.

Knowing how others live can sometimes be difficult but living in a small country like South Korea it is not difficult to know what is happening in different parts of the country, and getting a sense of what others are experiencing. On occasions, Korean bishops have gone to various villages--fishing, farming, mining villages--for days to have an on-the-spot experience of the conditions these Koreans have to live with. This has made their talks less abstract and bookish, and given them a better feel for the problems Korea faces. Our high school girl, when the need arises to speak about the alienated in society, will do so with more understanding and feeling because of her experience at Kkottongnae.

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