Revered Korean Dharma Master and Buddhist activist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) joined a special team of volunteers in Seoul earlier this month, who came together to distribute charcoal briquettes to vulnerable households while as South Korea settles in for another cold winter.
Just 30 years ago, charcoal briquettes were the primary fuel for heating and cooking in Korean households, and many disadvantaged communities still rely on them. JTS Korea, an international humanitarian aid organization founded by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim runs an annual program each winter to supply vulnerable communities with heating fuel during the harsh winter season, when temperatures often drop below –10°C.
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim joined JTS volunteers and a team of 140 people from the fields of television, film, theater and performing arts on December 2 in Seoul's prosperous Gangnam district to deliver briquettes to village residents of Guryong, an occupied slum. since the city's rapid development and modernization in the 1980s.
The enthusiastic volunteers gathered in front of the Guryong Festival Hall, including well-known actors Zo In-sung, Han Ji-min, Lee Si-eon, Cho Hye-jung and Lim Se-mi, popular singer Maya, as well as screenwriter Noh Hee-kyung and talk show host Kim Je-dong.
As the volunteers gathered, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, dressed in old work clothes, greeted them: “In this cold winter, many families around us still need fuel. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, sponsorships and donations have declined and volunteer work has stopped. . . . JTS, which provides support in the event of such social deficits, has been supplying fuel briquettes for four years. . . .
“These are the clothes I wear when I spread compost in the fields on my farm. No matter how much charcoal dust gets on our clothes, we can easily wash them afterwards. So let's carry some warm fuel while thinking of those people who are shivering in the bitter cold of winter. Let's work hard together!
The Buddhist humanitarian aid organization Join Together Society (JTS) was established by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim as an expression of the compassion of committed Buddhism and based on the principle that helping others is the best way to enrich one's own life. Charged with bringing hope, empowerment and self-reliance to disadvantaged communities in developing countries, JTS is led and operated by unpaid volunteers, who ensure that all donations benefit marginalized communities. JTS carries out relief operations in countries suffering from humanitarian disasters and has engaged in humanitarian projects in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The humanitarian organization has also been granted special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Screenwriter Noh Hee-kyung, a JTS volunteer and representative of new participants, gave some advice: “Even if we are hungry, let's be patient and focus on delivering briquettes. Many actors are participating today, and sometimes fans may come and ask to take a photo, but please refrain and be careful to avoid any unpleasant incidents. It’s so heartwarming and encouraging that so many of you are here today.
In total, 3 briquettes were to be delivered to 000 households including disabled and seriously ill people, or particularly vulnerable people. Volunteers formed long lines in the narrow streets of the village, passing briquettes from hand to hand to deliver 15 to each household.
As the fuel reached every house, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim took the initiative to stack the briquettes, showing the volunteers how to do it neatly and safely: “All we have to do now is stack the briquettes on top like this. Please try it.
The owner, who had been watching in silence, beamed with happiness when the briquettes were delivered, gushing: “Thank you so much, Sunim!* Thanks to you, we spend the cold winter months warm every year. We will never forget the support you gave us.
Once each house receives its delivery, volunteers quickly move to the next house, working quickly and efficiently. With so many participants, they were able to distribute the 3 briquettes in just two hours.
Although their bodies ached from the effort, volunteers expressed pride and satisfaction from the afternoon's work as they gathered for a commemorative group photo, their hands and faces furrowed with black soot.
Actor Han Ji-min expressed thoughts that were shared by many people gathered to bring the warmth of compassion to the Guryong Village community: "After working hard to deliver so many briquettes, my heart is warm . Let’s meet here next winter too!
Fri. Pomnyun Sunim is a revered Korean teacher, author, and social activist. He has founded numerous organizations, initiatives and projects around the world, including: JTS Korea, an international humanitarian aid organization working to eradicate poverty and hunger; Jungto Society, a voluntary community based on the teachings of the Buddha and dedicated to solving modern social problems that lead to suffering; Ecobuddha, an organization focused on environmental ethics and sustainable living based on the teachings of the Buddha; and Good Friends, which promotes reconciliation and cooperation between North and South Korea and provides humanitarian aid to North Koreans. Fri. Pomnyun Sunim also works closely with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB).
In October 2020, the Niwano Peace Foundation in Japan presented the 37th Niwano Peace Prize to Ven. Pomnyun Sunim in recognition of his international humanitarian work, intensive environmental and social activism, and tireless efforts to build trust and goodwill among communities of different faiths and cultures, towards the goal of world peace .**
*Sunim is a Korean title of respect for senior monks.
**Buddhist monk Ven. Pomnyun Sunim receives the 37th Niwano Peace Prize (BDG)