At 4pm the thick torrential rain suddenly buckets down, hard. By 4.30 it stops, the sky clears, and the air is left cooler again, just right for a barbecue. Tents, tables, and sliced tomatoes are rushed out by the young ‘staff,’ ready for all the strange expat guests who start rolling through the gates. By 5pm they are a week late and yet right on time, as the children’s home event has already been postponed due to the rain the previous Sunday.
As the shadows slowly slip into the late afternoon, children and the child-like run around squealing, screetching, and smiling with pleasure as they clasp soft-drink bottles half-filled with water. They shake out the water and spray each other with their impromptu water-guns. Others of all ages and nationalities are sitting around eating and chatting, connecting and relaxing, enjoying the sunny end to the weekend.
When the sun finally fades beyond the city’s skyline the tables are rearranged into an informal outdoor theatre, a projector set up, and some recently made home movies play against a flat white wall. The first shows the travels of an older home leaver, an early twenty-something lad who made it to the USA to study and see more of the world. Then a ‘retelling’ of the popular animated movie Shrek is ingeniously divided into three sections, the first acted by children to introduce the father ‘reading’ the story to the ‘son’. The second section includes drawings and voice acting of the characters by the children, and the third has the moral of the story drawn out by subtitles in English and Korean. Overall it demonstrates their combined effort to produce a creative and substantial piece of instructive entertainment. The evening finishes with a large group of children singing a song together to farewell the audience, including the expat volunteers who have helped out regularly for many months, and sometimes years.
When I catch up with the ebullient young director of the Moodeung Dream Garden Children’s Home of Hak Dong in south east Gwangju, Mr. ‘Kang’ Eunkang Chung radiates a positive energy so strong it was probably what chased away the rain clouds earlier in the day. As the bigger children cooperate quickly to clean up the tents and tables again, he takes a minute to step aside and speak in his impeccably enthusiastic English: “At 4pm it was raining, but then it stopped and the whole time has just been so great.” Asked if the event went as well as he had planned, he admits, “We wanted to say thank you and sing more farewell songs to all the wonderful volunteers who are leaving to go home overseas this week.” I assure him that the memory of the event itself is probably an adequately fond farewell.
Asked about the history of the involvement of expats in the home, Kang starts by talking of his friends from Joongang Church, Jon and Emily Reezor. He says they have been like “secret Santas, they have been sponsors, and have offered help whenever we needed help.” He says they “told Amanda [Baker] what I do. She contacted me first, came to the center and started it all, about a year-and-a-half ago.” His appreciation for her continues, describing her as being “a loyal volunteer, and now a family member” and admitting that she has “made the big differences to the kids.”
Now, however, is the end of a semester, and by some cruel twist of fate, time seems to be leading the Reezors, Amanda, and other committed volunteers away back to their homelands all at the same time. Despite this though, Kang remains resolutely positive: “Whereas before them, it was just constant headaches whenever they heard the word ‘English’, but now, [the children] have a solid reason to study… so it’s not goodbye. Now, [the children] have friends and teachers abroad whom they can visit in the very near future.” Kang continues, sounding excited as he adds, “It’d be neat for the little kids that Amanda taught to go visit her in Canada one day, when they’re in college, or even earlier if possible!”
To volunteer at MDream Garden Children’s Home, email Chung ‘Kang’ Eunkang, at:
silverkang @ hotmail . com.
Please include in the subject field: ‘MD Volunteer’ (helps to spot junk mail)
On facebook: search for ‘MDream Garden’
Or online, see: www.mdream.org
I hope to be able to post information about other homes open to expat involvement here soon. (Please contact me with any information you may have about local homes, and I shall post it here.)
Click on photos to see larger, full-sized images.
Michael Simning (right), long-time volunteer and coordinator of other expats volunteering at Sungbin Children’s Home, meets Chung Eunkang (center) and his father, Mr. Chung (left), director of MDream Children’s Home.
Thanks again to the Chungs and the children of MDream Garden children’s home for the wonderful barbecue event evening, and to Sim Eunjung for the photographs.