It was a freezing Christmas morning in 2009 when my family took me to volunteer at an orphanage. I was 13 years old. Here, everything was dead around me: barren trees with fallen leaves, lakes and ponds forming glass layers on top, creatures curled away to hibernate. Silence echoed around the orphanage. Only the bustling wind filled the empty void.
I agreed to visit the shelter after my parents suggested that I offer my services to the children at the facility. Most of the children were 5-7 years old and looked happy enough. I grudgingly went to the orphanage, upset at the fact that I had to do volunteer work on a holiday like Christmas. I would have much rather have gone out with my friends and enjoyed a hearty dinner. I felt like I was wasting my time in the farthest west coast of South Korea and was already thinking of returning to Seoul.
But once at the orphanage, I decided to make use of my time. I prepared their Christmas dinner, helped the children tidy up, and read books to the little ones by the fireplace as we drank hot chocolate. Time went by swiftly and I found myself actually enjoying all of the moments that I shared with the girls.
After a long day, I got my presents out for them. I felt my heart light up just looking at their delighted expressions when they saw the dolls, toys, blankets, clothing, and stationery sets wrapped up in beautiful packages underneath the Christmas tree. Lights sparkled overhead as the children sang jolly carols. Everything was so lively.
When the clock hit 10 p.m., I helped the staff put the girls to sleep. I helped them brush their teeth, change into their pajamas, and tucked them into their assigned beds. As I was about to turn around to close the door behind me, one of the girls, Soo, approached me and grabbed my arm. She whispered with eyes full of tears, “Please don’t go… Stay with us.” So I hugged her and reassured her that I would come back. But she pulled away from me and cried, “Don’t lie, I know you won’t come back.”
I was completely knocked off my feet by her words. I was heartbroken at Soo’s vulnerability and awareness of harsh realities at such a young age. Her innocence had already been shattered by the world, from the day she was born. It was not her fault that she ended up at the shelter without her proper parenthood — it was the society’s lack of precaution and control over unjust decisions. I believe it is the government and nation’s responsibility to care for these children and create an environment in which they can prosper without any obstacles. Society should not discriminate against them and, instead, help them reach their potentials with the equal opportunities available to everyone else.
This is what I want to fix in the world. I don’t want another innocent victim to suffer the pains of injustice. I came to New York to study International Relations in order to gain more knowledge about diplomatic affairs for my future goal. I want to become a communications director for a NGO that strives to eliminate poverty in the world. Most of all, I want to keep my promise to Soo.
Today, at NYU, I aspire to find answers to the global problems that plague the world. I attend global conferences to engage in a broader discussion on current issues, and keep myself up-to-date with the news to continue learning about recent problems and changes to the international community. When I see a homeless man on the street here in New York, I share what I have in my bag because I understand that issues of poverty and violence, big and small, hurt innocent people.
Trust me Soo, I’m coming back for you.