Taxi driver Kim Young-chan has been devoted to volunteering for elderly and disadvantaged people for the past 20 years.
Kim and several colleagues established community service group Saranghwe in 1992 when they were given licenses for a private taxi business by Seoul Metropolitan Government. It has grown into an organization with about 30 taxi drivers.
“We agreed we used to have difficult lives, but now that the government gives us benefits, we should return to society and help others when we can,” Kim, 56, said.
He won the welfare grand prize award from Seoul City last year for his various activities.
Saranghwe works together with the Kangnam Welfare Center, a center run by Kangnam University to provide school supplies for financially disadvantaged students, to send kimchi to low-income neighbors and provide car rides for the elderly to hospital.
The biggest service is sending low-income elderly on a tour twice a year every spring and fall. Saranghwe provides around 50 taxi cabs, and takes them on trips and performances, as well as lunch together.
“It is unforgettable when we see the elderly, who usually cannot afford to travel, enjoying themselves for one day,” Kim said.
Most community service is done, he said, during the private taxi drivers’ mandatory off day once every three days, so that it doesn’t conflict with their day job and they can provide car rides for those who need them.
Prior to working as a taxi driver, Kim said he led a difficult life.
Born in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province, Kim and his family came to Seoul 31 years ago for a better life. He first worked in Seoul as a truck driver, and then a bus driver until he received the taxi driver job.
However, he was constantly involved with community service throughout his life. Kim previously formed a service group when working as a bus driver, where he had also received many local welfare awards. His family had also fostered children, looking after about 60 children over 14 years.
“I just helped bit by bit as much as I could,” Kim said.
He mentioned that children who were in his foster care come to find him when they visit Korea.
“Another adoptee found me several days ago. So far, seven or eight have come to Korea to see us. I feel thankful when they’ve grown up well,” he said.
Kim said he was able to help others because he knew how it felt to lead a difficult life, and finds happiness seeing others benefit from their help.
This year, Kim was one of the judges for the Seoul welfare award along with professors and experts, as per the tradition where the previous year’s winner becomes one of the judges next year.
Although he has done much community service throughout his life and received various local and city awards, Kim said that he did not have plans for additional services.
“The only big things we do are the tours and sending kimchi, so I don’t really care about us being known,” he said. “I just want to do my best with what I have now. It’s not good if I try to do many things all at once.”
He hoped that Saranghwe would not disappear after he stops being in charge.
“If people care for those who are in worse situations than they are, the world will be a better place.”
By Sang Youn-joo (firstname.lastname@example.org