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At senior center in Dajeon City, South Korea, several high school girls are excited to hear the important stories of a speaker. What makes them so excited is not a popular Korean pop singer or a handsome movie star, but it is In Young-soon, a Korean-war-survivor. She is now telling to high school girls’ what she experienced.
“During the Korean war, the soldiers from North Korea attacked my city. I had to run away from them, but I couldn’t, because my little sister was with me. We hid together and waited for the soldiers to leave. All of sudden my younger sister started crying. I freaked out and thought that was the end of my life. But, fortunately we didn’t get caught and were able to run away from them.”
These high school girls, who are eager to concentrate on what Young-soon says and to take notes, are members of a volunteer group “Nanum” from EastDaejeon high school.
The volunteer work of members of Nanum is different from what other volunteer groups do. Their main task is that interviewing elderly people and creating and publishing a biography. They have been doing this volunteer work since June 2010, warming many Korean people’s heart.
“Nowadays, young students don’t know how to respect the elders. So I started this volunteer group in order to teach young students how to be polite by spending time with the elders,” guidance teacher Kim Soo-jin from EastDaejeon high school said.
In 2009, starting the volunteer group was not that easy at first. There were no elders who wanted to participate for two reasons. First, most elderly people did not want to talk about their personal life, and second, they were skeptical that these students had enough skill to write a biography.
However, the students did not give up. They studied a lot to have better writing and interviewing skills and also kept contacting senior centers in Daejeon City to find elderly people who would be interested in the project.
Three months later, Nanum members finally found someone who wanted to help them. Kim Kum-ja, a head of Daeduk senior center, expressed her interest in their activity, saying “What members of Nanum is trying to do is not about someone famous or popular, but is it about the ordinary people that we can see around us easily, and it is also the connection between the older generation and young generation. In that sense, I thought this activity should continue.”
Students visited a senior center and seniors’ houses three or four times a month and listened to their life stories. At first, it was awkward for young students to be around old people. There were many things that young high school girls could not understand because of the generation gap. However, as time went by, students started enjoying those stories and becoming comfortable with the elders.
“When I first visited seniors, everything was new to me. Some of them actually experienced what I only saw in the text books, and when they told us that story, I felt as if I was in that scene,” said Yum Hyung-joong, a member of Nanum.
Chae Seung-woo, a former member of Nanum and now a freshman at Hanbat National University, said, “Writing a biography for seniors gave me a new prospect about Korean history. I also realized that what we overlooked in the history class can be important for someone’s life. I have learned real history with this volunteer work.”
Students also learned how to understand other people’s life and communicate with them by writing a biography.
Another member of Nanum, Hwang Hee-jung said Nanum has changed her life.
“I was feeling a little unconfident in terms of deciding somethings before I started this volunteer work. But now I have become a more confident person, because Nanum gave me a chance to meet many people.”
A guidance teacher Kim Soo-jin of Nanum said, “I have seen a lot of students becoming more polite and tolerant with this volunteer activity. Since it is the work to deal with people, there are many times that students got their feelings hurt. Sometimes, there is a disagreement among students. After getting through all these processes, students become more understanding and thoughtful in terms of treating other people.”
Nanum’s good deed also has brought happiness to seniors. Usually when seniors get their biography from students, they show tears with a big smile. The biography written by others makes the elders feel not only happy but also proud of themselves. It gives them time to recall their earliest memories, and sometimes brings them the desire to develop a plan for the future.
Seniors who got their biography have their own way to make a return for students. When students visit them, they always welcome them with delicious foods or snacks. Some grandmothers make a sweater or bracelet for the girls.
It is been four years that Nanum first started its activity, and it has published 20 biographies of elderly people. Currently, Nanum has 13 members. The students who first started Nanum now are college students.
Now, members of Nanum are planning to expand their group by associating with other schools. Although they had a slow start, they believe their project will make a lot of people happy just like they have been doing so far.