Soldiers go on a goodwill mission in South Korea
April 22, 2009
PYONGTAEK, South Korea — Cheerleaders for South Korea’s Samsung Lions professional baseball team normally pump up the fans at the Daegu Baseball Stadium.
But on Saturday, a small group of them — two women and three men — were playing instead to a small but eager audience of mentally and physically disabled individuals at a local “welfare center,” and U.S. soldiers were along, too.
It was the kickoff of a new U.S. Army goodwill program — monthly “soup kitchen” visits to area welfare centers — launched Saturday in Daegu by the 19th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
The visit was to the Ilsim (“One Mind”) center, which houses about 135 residents and is run by the Roman Catholic Church, said Kim Sang-yun, a 19th ESC spokesman.
Under the soup kitchen program, volunteers from the unit and the local community serve meals to residents, chat with them and provide entertainment, like Saturday’s contingent from the Samsung Lions’ cheerleaders.
The cheerleaders performed one of their routines and sang the Korean pop song “Gee” to recorded music thumping from the center’s amplifiers, drawing applause, laughter, shouts and dancing from the audience of about 30 residents, Kim said.
“Normally they don’t have much interaction with people,” Kim said. “They needed to have a friend so we want to be their friend.”
About 56 volunteers made Saturday’s Ilsim visit, among them 19 soldiers from the 19th ESC and two of their family members, Kim said.
At Ilsim, the soldiers helped serve food that Daegu’s Korean-American Rotary members prepared: hamburgers and hot dogs and a Korean rice-and-vegetable dish called bibimpap, Kim said.
Later, some volunteers and residents kicked around a soccer ball or tossed a fitness ball, while others took walks around the center grounds, Kim said. And there were attempts at easy talk, with English-speaking university students ready to help with translation.
A soldier, for example, would say his name, then ask the resident their name, and would then write the resident’s name in Roman letters.
“It was really limited, basic conversation,” said Kim. “Where there was difficulty in communicating each other, university students helped them.”