Do you remember Naksansa, a Buddhist temple, burnt to down to cinders? It's common knowledge that in 2005 a large area of the Naksansa mountain-side was destroyed by a fire of unknown origin. What is, however, not very well- known is that Naksansa and its surrounding areas still need help to recover properly. For this reason, and with the support of the KT&G Social Welfare Foundation and Dongguk Chamsaram Volunteers(DCV), the chance to plant trees was given to donggukians. So one early morning this Spring about two hundred students braved sub-zero temperatures to gather at a meeting point: the monument celebrating Dongguk University(DU)'s centenary. I almost froze to death in the blistering cold! In spite of this, the donggukians at the moment were happy and did not grumble too much about the cold weather or lack of sleep while waiting to board the buses for Naksansa.
It took more than three hours to reach Naksansa by bus. Nevertheless, it became more and more exciting as time went by. "I have only one more semester left, so I hope this trip will abide with me as a good memory of school life," said Yang Ji-ye, a senior majoring in Law. As we got closer to our destination, a wide expanse of sea greeted our eyes. But, sadly, on the opposite side, we could see a bleak and desolate landscape, the mountain still scarred by the 2005 fire. Spring had already come, but the mountain was almost bare.
"Since Naksansa is associated with DU which was founded in 1906 by leaders in the Buddhist world, directly or indirectly today's volunteer work holds a lot of significance for us," remarked the chief director of the KT&G Social Welfare Foundation in his warmly welcoming opening words to donggukians. Jeong-Nyeom, the head priest of Naksansa, also greeted us in the orientation session: "the trees that you now plant will be tall ones and will be the great legacy that you will bequeath to your grandchildren."
Soon after orientation had finished, donggukians moved to another place to plant trees. I should describe the work that we did in some detail. First and foremost, we were put into groups of four to five people before starting work. When the operation began, the group members went hand in hand. Just prior to this, blue vests inscribed with DU symbol were distributed to all. Then, strange as it may sound, the first job was to remove some trees. There were a lot of scrub trees which hindered other trees' growth while also blotting the landscape. Getting rid of these was seen a vital factor in making space for new ones.
After learning from experts how to uproot the scrub trees, volunteers began to climb the mountain with jig-saws, sickles and strings in hand. "Personally, cutting off thornbushes reminds me of my military years," joked Nam Yun-sik, a senior majoring in Management. He added, "I think it might be to their benefit if some of my friends came with me next time." Even though the slope of the mountain was precipitous, the volunteers worked hard and enthusiastically, regardless of age and sex. As for myself, I had great difficulty in taking pictures and conducting interviews on the steep slope. "I am fairly interested in cutting trees because I don't get such opportunities in city life," said Im Sae-a, a senior majoring in Chinese Language & Literature. While being interviewed by me, she tied up the branches that had been cut down.
If my memory serves me right, it was well after 1 PM when we finally sat down for lunch. Obviously we were a little bit behind our schedule, but there was no one who complained about it. On the contrary, we made a great feast of the noodles provided by the temple, and ate heartily while admiring the picturesque scenery-the temple, the mountain and the blue sea.
After lunch break for an hour, we really started to plant trees. Some volunteer groups planted fruit trees- apricot trees, Japanese apricot trees, persimmon trees and jujube trees-while others planted Korean azaleas in the cleared places. What surprised me was that these very small trees will one day become huge bearers of fruits and flowers. "Honestly, I hadn't made up my mind about whether to come here or stay home for the weekend," said Kim Kyoung-hun, a sophomore majoring in Food Resource Economics. He continued: "But now I am excited at the thought of helping to restore the mountain after the disaster." We donggukians kept working in good earnest during the course of our time there: we dug holes, planted trees and watered the surrounding soil to help the trees anchor themselves. "The students tried to accomplish the work in a strong cooperative spirit," said Jin Yong-un, a staff member of the Korean Buddhist Jogye Order. He was particularly helpful from beginning to end, showing us how to plant a tree as well as many other things.
The volunteer work which had begun with passion ended with love for the community. "The most enjoyable aspect of the voluntary work is that students were able to learn about community spirit," said Park Hyun-sook, a staff member of DCV. She added: "I hope that there will be many more students who will feel inspired to participate in this very significant event."
By Yun Sang-young, Post Reporter
Yun Sang-young, Post Reporter email@example.com
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