Hello. Please introduce yourself.
Hello. I am Cho Hyeon-sik, who runs a project called “Mailbox of Warmth,” which anonymous letters of concern with comforting and hopeful words. The mailbox of Warmth is installed all over Seoul. If anyone writes a letter and puts it in the box, our “postman/woman” will reply to you with hand-written letters and send it to the address written on the envelope. At the same time, we run the “Postcard of Warmth” campaign, which sends hand-written postcards of hope to children with pediatric cancer at the Seoul Naeum Children's Cancer Center.
How can I use the Mailbox of Warmth?
There are two ways to use it.
Write a letter and post it in the mailboxes of warmth installed in places like Samcheong-dong, Sillim-dong, and Gwanghwamun in Seoul. We collect once a week and write you back.
Secondly, for those who live in areas without the mailboxes, you can write a letter wherever you are, send it to our address at Warmth Mailbox, 1F, 358-2, Gunja-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, (Postal Code: 05003), and we will respond to your letter.
It takes about 3 weeks to get a response. We send it to the address provided at the bottom of the envelope.
Is there a special reason for creating the Mailbox of Warmth?
Personally, my grandmother influenced me a lot. I grew up in my grandmother's hands. Grandma would always cook for me and leave a note saying, “Make sure you eat well.” Then I would reply to it and talk to my grandmother over notes. This is how I naturally became used to communicating through handwriting. As time went by and my grandmother got sick, she became depressed, and she eventually passed on due to dementia. As I watched my grandmother in bed, I realized how terrible it is when someone loses their means of conversation and being disconnected from others. In the process, I vowed to do something that can comfort and empower others who might be feeling lonely.
You must have received a lot of different concerns. Do you have any memorable letters?
So far, I have responded to various distressed letters, about 4,500 of them. The most memorable letter said that the writer wanted to receive a letter from her parents in heaven. She couldn’t accept the parting because the parents passed away without any time to say goodbye, but if they wrote her back, she felt that she might be ready to say goodbye.
One of the older female postwomen who is also a mother wrote the response letter to her as if she was her daughter. From the standpoint of raising a child, she was able to write with more empathy and sincerity. Since I have never had any children, if I had responded to that letter, it might have been a little lacking in comforting her than the postwoman who wrote the letter. The same is true for other letters, this one was especially memorable as we realized the value of our existence through the letter that sincerely consoled her.
Did you expect so many people to write you letters?
I didn't know so many people would send letters. When I first started, I started with 10 volunteers and thought I could make this society a little warmer by just receiving 10 letters a week and replying to each one of them. After installing mailboxes, I was surprised to find about 150 letters within the first week. I had to recruit 30 more volunteers in a hurry to respond to their concerns.
Perhaps anonymity was the most helpful for them in writing letters. In counseling, people are most worried about revealing your identity. In South Korea, social prejudice still exists about receiving psychiatric treatment and counseling. There are strong negative perceptions attached to it. Many people don't feel courageous to be treated and live with those struggles in their hearts. I feel like Mailbox of Warmth was stress-free because of anonymity and allowed them to speak their minds.
What does “warmth” in your name mean?
The value of “warmth” is considered to be disappearing from our society, but I believe it shouldn’t be forgotten. One of the great joys of life and feeling the warmth in living with people is talking and sharing love with somebody. Society is getting colder and fiercer, and it's a shame that warmth that we can use to comfort each other is also disappearing. I hope that if people who are comforted through sincere conversations convey the warmth they receive to others, our society will become eventually be filled with kindness. With this wish, we named ourselves Mailbox of Warmth to send warmth to each precious person, for everyone to be happy.
What are your plans and ultimate goals?
The plan for the future is to continue to increase the mailboxes of warmth. These days, the red mailboxes are disappearing, but our yellow mailboxes are increasing in numbers. If mailboxes of warmth multiply enough to be seen anywhere, you'll discover them when you walk out of your home and recognize that it’s there all the time. I'm dreaming of providing a social safety net, a place or a friend that gives unconditional support whenever people need them.
Another one of our plans is to install mailboxes at hospices. We are meeting with Hanyang University Hospital and Korea Cancer Center Hospital. We may be able to start next month. The difference from the original warmth project is that it writes back to the patients who are at hospices that leave their last words, what they want to say to the world. Personally, as my grandmother also died at a hospice, so I feel more attached to them. I'm preparing for it earnestly because it's something I have always wanted to do. I hope that Mailbox of Warmth can provide even a little bit of comfort for them to lean on, as they face the end of their lives.
My ultimate goal is never to forget my initial intentions. Even when the organization becomes larger, more people write letters of concern to us, and we have more mailboxes, I want to keep working with the same attitude as I do now. I hope that this moment will continue as it is now, with every letter sincerely comforting the recipients of our letters.
Culture Designer Discovery Campaign is provided by World Culture Open Korea.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.net)
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