The Secret Behind Seoul's Success

 © Korea Herald

I was browsing through Korea Herald to update myself with what’s happening in the country when I came across this article entitled ‘Homeless Baristas Brew Hope’ from Lee Hyunjeong. It piqued my curiosity, and as I read through it, inspiration dawned.

According to news, the café called ‘Café Espresso of my Life’ is actually a project of the city government of Seoul. The business currently employs two homeless people as baristas, who had been trained under the self-support program of the city administration. It was a 3-month training at the Home of Bohyeon, a public shelter for the homeless located just next to the café in Yeongdeungpo-gu.

Every day, the café receives more or less 200 customers. The staffs receive 500,000 won ($450) per month as salary, plus the profits earned. Won, who left his family and ran away from home after his company was bankrupted, said that he dreams of obtaining certification on coffee roasting and become an international barista someday. In that way, he can start anew and see his family again. 

A second outlet of Café Espresso of my Life is set to open early next year at Jongno-gu, where Won and the other barista are posed to be promoted as managers. And I personally hope people traveling to Seoul will take support the business, considering that it'll be located in a popular area among tourists.

Aside from the café, the city government also holds self-support trainings for hotel management and photography, in collaboration with notable personalities in the field. KORAIL, the public railway company, also extends its cooperation by picking dozens of homeless people in the streets and providing them with six-month jobs as luggage movers or cleaners in the Seoul Station. Wage and housing are provided by the government.  



Isn’t it lovely to see people seeing hope in others who refuse to see it for themselves? It warms my heart to know that there are still efforts like this to help the needy ones in a society tagged as one of the most successful ones in the world. The government focuses on the improvement of those lacking. They don't just provide hope, but strength and inspiration as well. It's like they're saying "Hey guys, we are going to the top and we're all in this together!" Some people find hope because others are willing to give it to them. It makes me happy that the city government of Seoul knows that so well. 

But the best thing here for me though is that there is no spoon-feeding happening in this kind of set-up. Sure, there may be hidden lapses and flaws, but what matters is that projects are implemented to “try to help the homeless become independent and help themselves,” as said by City Health and Welfare Chief Kim Kyung Ho.

I know it is a difficult undertaking; but what probably makes this work is the fact that this is a give-and-take process. The city government does everything they can to help the homeless, and the homeless willingly accepts the challenge and work hard to achieve the administration’s goal for them. They understand that they are responsible for their own lives and are thankful for the hope other people finds for them.

They don’t take advantage and literally depend on others for their living. We can perhaps attribute this to the ‘Korean man’s dignity’ attitude, but I think it’s more of the fact that they know their limits.

This process, I believe, is the reason behind the city’s success. Seoul isn’t perfect, let’s all admit that; but these kinds of redemptions compensate. To me, it’s like witnessing the real concept of ‘bayanihan’ (communal work). No one gets to be left behind. Everyone takes part in the improvement of their society. 


When will this ever happen in my own country?


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