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October Yonhap: Mannam Volunteer Association faces criticism from foreign residents

By Curtis File
Contributing writer
SEOUL, Oct. 28 (Yonhap) — When Tom Traubert replied to a Facebook ad for the Daegu branch of Mannam Volunteer Association in the fall of 2011, he was looking to give back to the Korean community.

“I have a long history of volunteerism and work with non-profit organizations,” said the 31-year-old English teacher, who asked to use his Internet pseudonym. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to continue with that while I live in Korea.” But it didn’t take long before he started to feel that something was amiss.

Though Mannam bills itself as the embodying the “spirit of pure volunteerism” according to its official web site, Traubert says that just three of the many events organized by the Daegu branch in his year-long stint with the organization qualified as volunteering. The rest, he said, were promotional events in the hopes of recruiting more foreign residents.

“As time went by, I became more and more aware of how the only skill or resource they wanted from me was that I was a foreigner, willing to wear a Mannam T-shirt and interested in bringing in more foreigners to the organization,” he said.

A blog post by Laura Oxenreiter, another former Mannam organizer from Daegu, echoed these sentiments.

“Probably the beginning of my real doubts was when Mannam organized a ‘Natural Disaster Walk’ in Daegu. The non-Korean organizers gave some input, but then weren’t actually involved in the preparations,” she wrote. “In the end, the attendees just walked around a park while being filmed most of the day. A lot of people who’d attended left in the middle of the day, because they were so frustrated by the obsession with pictures and the lack of any constructive work.”


Read more at: Mannam Volunteer Association faces criticism from foreign residents


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September Yonhap: Artists seek new boroughs in an unforgiving city

By Curtis File
Contributing writer
SEOUL, Sept. 24 (Yonhap) — When the auction begins, Jojae clutches his painting nervously in front of the small crowd before him. Seated in lawn chairs on an overgrown, pothole-ridden lawn, none of the 20 or so attendees utters a peep when the bidding starts at 70 million won (US$62,780)
The tension breaks when a young boy shouts “10,000 won!” The crowd laughs, but this is exactly the point of this afternoon’s “Noitcua,” or auction in reverse. Artists feature their work and interested buyers underbid each other until a final price is settled.
“We came here just to have fun and create an interesting atmosphere,” says Jojae, 29, whose painting ended up selling for 24,000 won. “It’s not meant to be serious; I just wanted to have fun with my art.”

Thanks to Halim, a well-known 36-year-old musician, quirky events like this are becoming more frequent at DoHa. The abandoned military base sits just outside of Seoul, a former home to an emergency bridge services unit. Now it is a sanctuary for the city’s “starving artists.”

Painted rocks on wire stems reach out from the barren gardens of an old administration building, the largest left remaining. Inside and out, its white walls are decorated with murals, canvas paintings, and melted straw sculptures. At the back of the building a small art gallery sits next to a cafe serving Americanos and lemonade.
“Being an artist is not easy in Seoul, it’s a hard life,” says Halim. “We came here because we needed somewhere to go. DoHa’s meaning is ‘across the river,’ so that is where we went.”

Read more at: Artists seek new boroughs in an unforgiving city