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Former teacher dedicates 30 years to charity work

As volunteers of all ages, occupations and causes lined up wearing Korean Red Cross uniforms and chef hats at the headquarters in Jongno, central Seoul, one instructor took them through how to split the dough to make cream cakes.

Hours later, sponge cakes and sweet bread came out from the oven. Looking at their warm, puffy creations, the cooks’ beamed as they imagined them being doled out to those in need, a daily routine for the volunteers.

Standing among them was Yoon Kyung-ae, an 83-year-old volunteer who has become a familiar face at the Korean Red Cross, with which she has been working every day for the past three decades.

The start of her voluntary work was nothing more than a coincidence.

“I still remember the first day. It was Oct. 10, 1986 right after I retired from teaching. My friend asked me if I would join a Japanese class held at the Korean Red Cross’ office. That was the beginning,” said the 83-year-old former middle school teacher. 

Yoon Kyung-ae Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald
Yoon Kyung-ae Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald

While learning Japanese at the office, Yoon gradually opened her eyes to voluntary work. She joined the organization with the aim of dedicating the rest of her life to others, she said.

Her first voluntary job was offering assistance at an information desk at Seoul Red Cross Hospital. Her job gradually broadened to guiding visitors to operation rooms and assisting at the hospital’s pharmacy. She mainly helped with sorting pills.

The experience at the hospital left her with many fruitful memories, she said.

“One day, a random man was urgently looking for a particular doctor. I guided him to the doctor and luckily he was able to receive the surgery that he needed. I cared for him until he left the hospital. A few days later, the man visited me to express gratitude with a box of sweet potatoes. He was a sweet potato farmer,” she said with laugh.

“Since then, we have become friends and we still keep in touch. He still sends me a box of sweet potatoes every year.”

Her dedication to helping others was not limited to hospitals. Whenever disasters occurred in the country such as the Seongsu Bridge collapse in 1994 or Sampoong Department Store collapse in 1995, she ran to the scene and supported the survivors and rescue workers. She also never hesitated to offer a helping hand to shelter-seekers or refugees whenever weather disasters hit the country.

“The poorer the region is, the harsher the damage is when a disasters happened. The only thing the volunteers could do was to make sure that the refugees have three meals a day at shelters,” Yoon added.

As of late last month, the total length of time she spent on voluntary service in the past 30 years amounts to 30,395 hours, according to Korean Red Cross officials.

Starting from 2002, the former teacher has visited a disabled welfare center four days a week to support the disabled residents.

Despite being in her 80s, she does not feel any physical difficulties in carrying out her voluntary service.

“Nothing is physically hard or challenging to me. Everything is enjoyable and fun. See? I’m still healthy enough to carry this box,” said Yoon, grabbing the daily supply box with two hands.

In recognition of her dedication to voluntary service, she received several awards from the organization over the years.

“Volunteering is nothing special. It’s just a spirit of offering a helping hand to anyone anywhere at any time. That’s actually the best way to stay happy, joyful and healthy,” she said with a blissful smile. 

By Lee Hyun-jeong(