One of my most memorable experiences in Korea was when I volunteered at the Eastern Social Welfare Society orphanage in Hongdae.
After a while, the partying, drinking, eating excessive amounts of BBQ and ramyun became monotonous and even though I was fulfilled at my job, I still wanted more. I knew volunteering was the thing I wanted to do but I was apprehensive about being in a situation where I’d either have to be outside for long amounts of time (if you don’t know, Girl Davis is allergic to the cold) or have to speak high level Korean and back then I could barely say a sentence without running away.
Luckily on Facebook, there’s a group run by Sha (who appeared on this episode of Black Girls In Korea) called Brothas and Sistas of South Korea and there was a list of volunteer events in Seoul and that’s where I found out about the Eastern Social Welfare Society.
It took me a while to find the place as (until recently) the building looked very unassuming, so I walked past it many times before I found it. Once I got there I had to (try) and communicate with some of the staff there who spoke little English, but really tried to understand my attempts at Korean. I brought my Alien Registration Card AND my passport for ID as it was good to carry both around during my early days in Korea. Once they signed me up, they took me to look around the orphanage and seeing all the babies in the cots, so perfect and small-yet without parents really broke my heart. As soon as I left and hit the front steps I burst into tears because I couldn’t fathom how someone could leave their baby like that (after years of growth, I’m more understanding but back then it was hard to process after seeing the babies).
There are many reasons why there are so many orphans in Korea, but I’ll save that for another post.
The babies there ranged from newborns to toddlers-I fell head over heels for one girl called Soolah who had a mild form of autism and I made several trips a month just to visit her. The atmosphere there is very calm, as the older women who work there are seasoned professionals at looking after children.
You walk in, put on a pink overcoat (or red apron if you’re playing with the toddlers) and tie up your hair so it’s away from your face and just get to work. The ‘work’ is nothing more than providing hugs and comfort for children who are in great need of love. There’s nappy changing, bottle feeding and general playing around. There’s something about when a baby leans towards me that just makes my heart swell.
I brought many friends there over the course of two years (I even brought a guy I was dating there and he had a great time). If you’re in Seoul, head over to Hongdae, bring some ID, and go and show some love to some babies, I promise you won’t regret it!