Hwang Hwa-ick starts her day at 4 a.m. sharp by collecting recyclable materials in her neighborhood. For the 78-year-old, empty bottles, used cans and old newspapers are not waste, but sources for helping those in need.
For the past 30 years, she has worked with a local women’s community, gathering the recyclables, selling them and returning the proceeds to society.
Her first day’s pay was a meager 7,700 won ($7.16). But she has made more than 10 million won from the job so far and saved the sum in 15 bank accounts.
|Hwang Hwa-ick poses with a bouquet and the welfare award she received from Seoul Metropolitan Government at City Hall on Sept. 9. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)|
All went to her neighbors including senior citizens who live alone, children at public centers and patients in hospitals.
For the philanthropist, the amount of the donation was not an important factor.
“Whenever neighbors are sick or in the hospital, I visit them and give 30,000 won,” she said with a humble voice.
“I’ve been living in Jongno, Seoul for more than 50 years. I know every single person here. How can I just pass them by when they are hospitalized?”
Having recognized her constant endeavors, Seoul Metropolitan Government granted Hwang its top welfare award on Sept. 9.
“I’m now confident in front of my children. They did not like what I did because it’s a physically tough job.”
“Seeing all the bank accounts and documents that show what I have done, my children were astonished. They told me that I deserved the award,” she said, laughing.
Her children have now become her best supporters. Every Sunday, which is the only day she can sell glass bottles, her daughters visit Hwang’s home, then carry and deliver the heavy recyclables instead of her.
Her husband was her biggest helper until he passed away four years ago.
“Carrying heavy empty glass bottles for me, he used to help me every morning,” she said.
After receiving the award, she visited her husband’s grave with her family to express gratitude.
“It would have been impossible to get such a great award without his support.”
Her children also brought a photo album recording her donations and put it in front of the tomb.
“That was a surprise. I didn’t know they had prepared it for my husband.”
Going through a lumbar disk surgery and knee-joint operation two decades ago and still carrying heavy waste every morning, Hwang’s health has weakened, but not her passion and love for her neighbors.
“I have no particular dreams or hopes. I just want to stay healthy, live actively and keep helping others through the morning job until I die.”
By Lee Hyun-jeong (email@example.com