It’s a snowy Saturday afternoon, and this concludes my 4th week of volunteering. I’m down on Jeju Island to volunteer at a rehabilitation home for children/young adults with severe disabilities called 창암 재활원 (for more information click here) for 6 weeks this winter break and it’s been an amazing learning experience. It’s not my first time volunteering at a facility for disabled children–I used to volunteer at the CRCC of Omaha during my Junior and Senior years of high school…. and I thought that my work would be similar here but oh boy was I wrong. In a room with 14 children with only two class teachers, I had to bear the extra weight the teachers could not handle. From the very first day, I helped kids get into their wheelchairs, I fed them rice porridge (for those who cannot digest real food), and helped during bath time. I volunteer practically full-time, from 9am to 5pm, and for the first couple days, after my shift, I just passed out right when I got home because I was not used to the emotional and physical burden of working with disabled children. But as the days (and now weeks) have flown by, I can feel my mental and physical body growing stronger. I can (kind of) anticipate the teachers’ needs, and help them out before they have to ask, I know each kid’s silly actions to reel in attention, and how every child expects to be loved.
My patience is being trained every. single. minute. when I am volunteering. I sometimes forget that these kids cannot fully comprehend what I ask them to do, or most of what I say. It’s hard not being able to fully communicate with someone, but spending all day with them. I’ve learned the importance of slowing down, listening one more time, and the importance of words and actions filled with love. Regardless of their disability, I’ve seen that these kids are brilliant in their own way. They see the world in a totally different lens than us, but it’s not necessarily the “wrong” way. It’s just unfamiliar to us. It was unfamiliar to me at first, too, and I was frustrated that I could not communicate with them, frustrated that they wouldn’t listen to me, frustrated that they did everything their own way instead of the way I ask them to… but now I know that it’s because they see the world differently than I do.
dis·a·bil·i·ty /disəˈbilədē/ a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.
A disability, as shown in the definition above, supposedly “limits” a person. But I strongly believe that it does not “limit” a person to how much they love, and how much love they strongly desire. I know this because I have seen, with my own two eyes, how extremely capable these kids are of sharing love to others. Of course, they each express love in their own way that may be unfamiliar to some… but they have hearts wider and deeper than the ocean. They love to love, and the love to be loved, and when they receive love, the smile on their faces really seem to light up the whole room. Although many of them cannot express themselves with words, a small change in their facial expression, the glimpse of a smile, the occasional belly laugh…these are all things that keep me going back every morning.
I really enjoy volunteering here, but I don’t know if I enjoy living in the mountains.
We’re located at about 700m above sea level, somewhere in the numerous mountains of Jeju. The closest bus stop is a 40 minute walk from here, and the closest convenience store is a 30 minute drive away. Coming from living in Seoul, where there are at least 3 convenience stores every couple steps, a subway stop virtually <15 minutes from anywhere you step foot, and taxis lining the streets, this was a complete environmental culture shock to me.
The first week was…. refreshing. Being away from the constant bustle of a big city, away from busy days filled with plans with friends, and away from the constant need to “do something”. I was excited for 6 weeks of rest. But sooner than I thought, the loneliness hit me like a truck. I was once reminded that although running around from plan to plan is exhausting sometimes, I’m a pure city girl at heart. I like to be kept busy. I like to see people. I like to interact with people. I like the feeling of wandering around an unfamiliar neighborhood by myself, discovering secrets of each part of a city. And I realized that I felt trapped. Without a car, or public transportation, I have been stuck in the mountains. And I tried to make the best of it! Believe me, I tried. I hiked the nearest trail, I went on photo adventures, I tried to stay with the kids until they fell asleep, but I couldn’t shake off the loneliness. I was pouring out my love to the kids all day long, but I had nowhere to recharge, no one to receive from. I guess I’m a little more excited than I should be that I only have 2 weeks left here….
Loneliness is something I have struggled with all my life, I think. I crave company. I would rather be with someone I feel mediocre about and only kind of like than be alone. I recharge by being with other people. But it’s an uphill battle, fighting loneliness, and I can only hope that my time here will help me out someday.