By Jinseok Choi

I’ve taken several breaks throughout my undergraduate studies where my major is now in law. One two-year break was to carry out my military duties; I focused on studying English during the other breaks. What’s different about this latest six-month break is that not only did I decide to get involved in new activities, I realized I wanted to volunteer with a non-profit and help people in need. Social entrepreneurship and the nonprofit sector are still fairly new concepts in Korea. I currently have the idea to combine my law studies within the nonprofit sector as a career direction, so volunteering somewhere overseas was the logical first step.

When I did my initial research on a suitable place to volunteer, many organizations seemed to focus on only one or two activities, primarily teaching English to kids. What attracted me to Warm Heart were the diverse project areas with their very practical objectives. From my first interview with Evelind, I also got the feeling that Warm Heart is willing to let volunteers try different areas to see where they want to work.  Since getting involved in new fields was exactly my goal, that’s what made me decide to come here.

Of course as this was my first long-term volunteering experience, I wasn’t really sure about what I was supposed to be doing.  What I realized after just a few days was just how important it is to be really working closely with the people we are trying to help. This is certainly true of two of  WH’s project areas which most impressed me, namely the Children’s Homes which helps local hilltribe children and the biochar project, designed to help local farmers and improve the environment.

I soon found my niche working with the Public Access project whereby WH assists the elderly and disabled residents in the Phrao area, first by identifying their needs and then facilitating their access to correct and timely medical or social assistance services. Maria and Tuff, two other volunteers working on the same project, were both away so I pretty much got thrown in the deep end. Luckily I was joined by Aenie, a young local Thai with some English who is planning to work in Australia. It was also his first week. Our job was to continue surveying the elderly and disabled residents in nearby villages, going house to house, filling out a form with basic demographic, social and health assessment information.  We then enter the information in a database.

The initial information is provided by the village headmen.  By the time I leave, we will have nearly finished canvassing two villages and visited over 150 households.  If you look at our color-coded maps of the two villages, you can see that maybe half the houses have either someone over 60 or someone disabled living there.  So our work is really important and we have been able to build real relationships with some people.

I’ve been really lucky to have Aenie as my partner since his father is a village headman and people are quite comfortable talking to him.  Now that everyone has heard about our work, it’s also quite easy to get people to take the survey. Aenie and I are about the same age and have similar backgrounds – both of us are studying law but neither of us plans to become a traditional lawyer.  It was also great being able to learn some Thai while working with him.


Surveying an elderly village resident 

As I near the end of my stay at Warm Heart, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish during my time here and really glad that I decided to push myself to the limit.

I think through working with both the other volunteers and with the warm and kind-hearted local people, I’ve opened up a lot and learned better how to relate to other people. At first I was a bit surprised at the lack of hierarchy in the management style at Warm Heart but now I’m wondering if I’ll be able to cope again with the more traditional set-ups back in Korea!


My partner Aenie and I at work in another village resident’s home

In addition to what I’ve gained professionally, I’ll also never forget other first-time experiences such as helping to harvest rice in WH’s experimental rice field or sleeping in the remote mountain village of Mae Soon where I have never seen so many bright, shiny stars.

From being welcomed into people’s homes to witnessing the fabulous Loy Krathong lantern festival, all this would not have happened if I had not decided to volunteer at Warm Heart. Just when I am starting to get used to being here, I am sad that I am leaving.  But I hope to be able to return one day in the future.

(Jinseok Choi recently completed a three-month stay at Warm Heart)