lunteers help deliver briquettes to residents in Guryong village on Feb. 18.
/ Courtesy Photo MVA
By John Redmond
Within a stone's throw of Daechi-dong, Gangnam, one of Seoul's most wealthy and affluent suburbs, and in the direct shadow of grand towers where apartments sell for no less than $2,000,000, there exists a forgotten shanty town ― Guryong village.
The residents of this poor village who number in excess of 2,500 live in a sort of legal and literal no man's land. They are there because they were forcibly evicted from their original homes in the 1980s. The area where they used to live was razed to the ground and turned into a plush business and residential district as Seoul became the focus of the world's attention for the Summer Olympics in 1988.
The village comprises of tumbledown shacks thrown together from scraps of plywood and tarpaulin and other makeshift materials the residents can get their hands on. The residents are especially vulnerable during the summer and winter months as they have no proper heating systems or other amenities.
A resident, who wishes to remain anonymous as her family does not know she lives there, explains that they suffer the most in the winter and summer months due to the extreme temperatures. “We have severe mold issues due to moisture in the air” during summer months and respiratory illnesses are rife,” she said.
The government, due to the nature of the system, is only able to provide assistance to a small percentage of the residents. After hearing about a recent fire, the Mannam Volunteer Association (MVA) held a number of events to raise funds for the poverty stricken residents. Through volunteers’ efforts, they were able to buy 4,000 coal briquettes, sufficient to see 40 homes of the poorest residents through the rest of the bitterly cold Korean winter.
The MVA assembled a task force of 250 dedicated volunteers including 160 expats from all corners of the world who braved biting winds and sub-zero temperatures to distribute the briquettes. At the same time, Mannam International Running Club (MIRC), part of Mannam Sports, ran 13 kilometers along the Han River from Apgujeong to Guryong to raise awareness of the residents' plight.
Among the runners was MIRC member Edwin Garcia from the Philippines. "I am excited and at the same time, I feel privileged to be a part of this initiative. This really is a different type of running. It's fantastic to support a truly worthy cause," Garcia said.
His values are in sync with the principles of the MVA, an organization dedicated to serving the community and shedding light on the darkest and most neglected areas of society.
"We are amazed that people from so many different countries care enough to come here and help. All we can say is thank you from the bottom of our hearts," the anonymous resident said.