Sorrow is halved when shared

Off the shores of Jindo Island, the Sewol ferry sank on April 16, 2014. There are people whose time has stopped since then. When over 300 people were missing, the victims’ families ran to Jindo, the nearest island to the accident site. From that time on, endless sorrow and waiting began at the Jindo Gymnasium.

With the faith that sorrow is halved when shared, the Intl. WeLoveU Foundation shared the grief of the victims’ families. The members from Gwangju and neighboring regions set up a free meal camp in front of the gymnasium, and began serving food to the victims’ families, other volunteers, rescue workers searching for the missing, and public workers dealing with the aftermath on April 21.

The families of the missing paid sharp attention to the news delivered every minute to the large screens installed in front of the main gate and inside the gymnasium. At the public stadium next to the gymnasium, helicopters landed and took off countless times a day to carry the victims. Whenever the victims were identified, people in the gymnasium burst into cry. The hope for the victims’ survival became dim day after day, and the families only wished for finding their bodies. It wasn’t easy to suggest food to them in such a situation. Nevertheless, the members from the Foundation put their every effort into preparing and serving meals from early morning till late at night, hoping that the victims’ families would have some food and get strength.

“I am a parent myself, and this disaster makes me so sad. Then how heartbroken they must be! Now I’m here and can feel their pain. No word can comfort them. I’d just like to make some efforts so that they can get strength,” said a member volunteering at the site.

The members from the Intl. WeLoveU Foundation, who shed tears and felt sorry whenever they watched the news about the Sewol ferry accident on TV, made some time from their work and home, and came to the site to work as volunteers by turns. Some members got a day off from work and helped out with the camp almost for 24 hours from midnight to the following midnight. The tight schedule of buying ingredients and preparing meals from early morning was tough, but looking at sorrow-stricken faces of the victims’ families was harder; the members couldn’t show smiles or tears to them.

The members from the Foundation did their best with the mind of a mother who encourages and feeds her family members when they are in despair and distress. They planned to cook meals which are easily digestible and helpful to regain energy. They also made porridge and herbal medicine, and delivered to the gymnasium where there were some families who didn’t eat any meal at all. The victims’ families put mattresses and blankets on the cold floor, and just waited and waited for their missing family without knowing when they would come back. To them, the members from the Foundation delivered porridge, herbal medicine, steamed towels, and love.

The members looked for more things to help with. When they heard the air was stuffy in the gymnasium, they brought cloths and began to clean the floor in a squatting position. At first, the cloths became dirty soon after a few wipes, but as they wiped the floor three times a day every day, the interior got cleaner and the air became fresher. Later, other volunteer groups joined in cleaning the interior of the gymnasium with one mind.

Even after serving evening meals, the members were still busy. They delivered heat packs to conscripted policemen standing guard duty in chilly weather, and served noodles to the victims’ families who came back to the gymnasium late at night after waiting for the victims’ return at the Paengmok Port. The light of the free meal camp of the Intl. WeLoveU Foundation was always turned on until the dawn.

The victims’ families, who reluctantly came to have something to eat, encouraged by their relatives, regained some strength and opened their minds to the members gradually. An old couple, who came from Busan, said they had rarely eaten for twenty days because of their missing son. They expressed their thanks to the Foundation for giving them a warm reception enabling them to get strength. Some families saw the members cleaning the gymnasium and felt sorry and thanks at the same time, saying that good people were cleaning on their knees as if they were sinners because of them. “You all seem like mothers who have children to look after. But you’ve come here to help us. Being moved, I can’t hold back my tears,” said an old lady, holding a member’s hands. “I can feel that your volunteer service is very sincere,” “Thank you so much for your 24-hour service. We feel grateful and reassured,” some also said.

The members felt more thankful when the victims’ families said, “This tastes good,” or when they tried to help themselves more because of the members’ love and care. On May 4, Chairwoman Zahng Gil-jah came to Jindo and looked around the site. She came to the Foundation’s free meal camp and encouraged the members, holding their hands.

The Intl. WeLoveU Foundation’s free meal camp had provided over 13,000 meals for 19 days until May 9, but finished as the government requested evacuation with fewer victims’ families. Volunteers from other organizations, journalists, and public workers all appreciated the members’ work and felt sorry for parting. The victims’ families, who had visited the camp, brought their other families in the gymnasium to the camp and said goodbyes to the members. The Intl. WeLoveU Foundation became another family for those who lost their family. Hoping to meet again, the members asked them to gain strength.