Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Korean Review: Day 2 – Giving Back to the Community

Coming into this experience in Korea, I knew that I wanted to get involved with the community in some way, whether that was through volunteering, language classes, or sports opportunities at my school. I was blessed to have the opportunity to join the amazing volunteer organization, Mannam International. Through this group, I have established friendships that will last a lifetime.

I first heard about Mannam from my friend Rachel. She participated in AmeriCorps last year (and was super helpful/instrumental in helping me land that gig for this upcoming year) and has a true heart of gold when it comes to volunteering and helping others. She sent me an event invite on Facebook back in December stating that help was needed at a place called the House of Hope, an establishment for Koreans, aged 7-30, who have mental disabilities. They needed help setting up for an end of the year banquet. My friend Emma and I decided to give it a go! (Emma also is a big volunteer enthusiast and just an all-around amazing person!)

I was instantly hooked. We helped set up tables, blow up balloons, hang streamers, and artistically display items that the residents had made to sell. We were treated to part of the program and even were allowed to eat some of their food! Not only did I find something that fulfilled my want and desire to give back to Seoul, but I also met some really amazing people!

For the next two months, I helped out at various, little events, but I knew that I wanted to get more involved that I was at the time. My first opportunity came in February. My friend Fred, who is from Vancouver, had invited me to come and check out the new running club that was being started. As I have stated multiple times before, running was not in my blood at this time, but I decided to give it a go. After being the last one to finish the warm-up 5K run, I took it upon myself to get into shape and became serious about running. Through this experience, I have run 3 official 10K races, my first half marathon, and lost about 10 pounds! Without Mannam, this never would’ve happened.

Around March, I approached Nadine, one of the coordinators for Mannam, about getting more involved on the planning side of things. She told me to attend one of the volunteer event planning meetings that was coming up to see how I could do that. That was all the encouragement that I needed. During my time on the committee, I helped to plan to run various events, including an Earth Day based project on Bukhansan (ended up being a two week thing), Mini-Olympics at the House of Hope, trash clean-up at both Pyeoncheong and Guryong Village, an open-mic fundraising event, and two school painting excursions. Joining this committee led to the formation of some friendships that will last a lifetime.

Finally, my last contribution and activity with Mannam International was to join with three other members (Nate, Colleen, and Sarah) and help start up a Spanish conversation club called MannAmigos. The idea for this club was first brought to my attention when I was taking Judo classes. Colleen was also in my class and noticed that I was wearing a Spain sweatshirt. Small talk turned to serious discussions regarding the formation of a Spanish club. We recruited the help of Nate and Sarah, made a proposal to Lisa (the head of Mannam International) and badda boom! – we had our club! 

We have met at coffee shops weekly to discuss and improve our Spanish skills. The club has been expanded to include anywhere from 5-10 people, sitting around, sipping coffee and speaking in Español. It has been a great experience and has helped me prepare for my time in Miami, as I am looking at working at instructing adult immigrants, mainly from Cuba, in English. This has given me a great brush up as I gear up for this new experience!

In short, Mannam International has been an extremely important and amazing part of my time in Korea. Through this organization, I have worked hard with people from Saudi Arabia, Korea, England, Pakistan, Japan, Canada, the United States, India, South Africa, Brazil, Guatemala, Ukraine, and others. It has been such an honor and a privilege to know and work with all of them. I will sorely miss your company, smiles, and companionship. May the light that you all bring to this organization continue to unite others around the world! You will forever be in my heart and on my mind!

When light meets light, there is VICTORY!!

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