Free Food and Funerals for South Korea's Elderly
t a crematorium on the outskirts of Seoul, a group of mourners are preparing to collect the body of 54-year-old Seol Min Bok.
They will hold a wake for him, prepare his funeral rites, and then send him on his final journey with a dignified ceremony.
But none of these mourners are related to Mr Seol. They are volunteers from Good Nanum (or Good Sharing), a civic group that offers free funeral services for those who die with no known family members to claim their remains.
Mr Seol died alone in a home shelter. But perhaps in his final moments, it was of some comfort to him that there would be people to send him off.
Said Good Nanum’s director Park Jin-Ok: “Frankly, lonely people who live in solitude would rather find happiness in death. And when they want to let go of life, I want them to know that they are not alone, that someone is with them.”
Good Nanum, which operates only within Seoul, handles about four free funerals a week.
This is where ground-up initiatives and the community, from non-governmental organisations to churches, have stepped in to try to fill the gap.
Also providing a nexus for companionship, as well as food to fill the stomach, are charity kitchens throughout the country run by volunteer groups.
The National Volunteer Associations runs 26 such kitchens, and more than 6,000 seniors drop in each day for warm meals that typically consist of milky ox-bone soup, kimchi, rice cakes and acorn jelly.
Like Angel Soup Kitchen, some churches in Seoul have stepped up efforts to support the elderly poor. Today, at least 100 churches give handouts once a week. A gift of US$1.50, an egg and a rice cake can draw queues that are 400 strong.
Ms Lee said it warms her heart when the elderly folks express their bare-bones gratitude to volunteers. “They’ve had such tough and lonely lives, all they do is say ‘thank you’ when they leave.”
Source : This is part of an article originally published in Channel News Asia.