Clubs at SIS exist to provide extra opportunities for students to pursue their passions outside of the classroom. In particular, a bevy of “volunteer” clubs (Red Cross Youth, Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF) provide the chance for students to go abroad for their altruistic missions.
We see them on Facebook and Snapchat, advertising a bake sale or talent show to provide for the global communities of Cambodia and Laos. Then, just a few months later, they travel to these aforementioned countries, and return with pictures of newly built homes. We smile at the new background photos of our students hugging the locals with whom they built homes, the lives they’ve positively affected, and the cycle repeats. While the efforts of these clubs is certainly praiseworthy, we must also recognize that providing shelter and homes for the vulnerable is something we must also do for our citizens at home, not just abroad.
Within Korea, and Seoul more specifically, rapid urban development has forced entire communities from their homes, resulting in the creation of slum villages and shantytowns. These evictees originally settled on private land with the intention of staying while they found sufficient accommodation elsewhere. Now, in the absence of proper subsidized housing and government assistance, they live in cramped vinyl buildings as a last resort, a choice forced upon them by personal circumstances rather than choice. These anonymous strangers live just next to us, whether it be Guryong Village on the edge of Gangnam or Hwahwe Maeul–a three minute walk from our school.
In a joint feature by Tiger Times and Tiger Times Online, the staff of the school newspaper provided a glimpse into the conditions at Hwahwe Maeul. Considered illegal tenants, the inhabitants lack legal rights to stay on the land, and suffer from improper sanitation and fires, the latter of which has burned down the poorly-constructed village multiple times since the 1980s.
Clubs like Habitat for Humanity devote themselves to providing “simple, decent, and affordable” housing. Make no mistake, community service clubs have done enormous good in raising awareness and traveling abroad to provide affordable housing for those who could not afford it. But for efficiency’s sake, perhaps the thousands of dollars that go into plane tickets to countries thousands of kilometers away could go to water filters and fire extinguishers for the thousands of Koreans that live in impoverished conditions just a kilometer from a school where hundreds of able-bodied students are ready and willing to help.