The word love is widely used. Most people express love by giving others presents in heartshaped packages with the words ‘I love you’ written on them. However, have you ever thought deeply about the true meaning of love? Most people have seldom contemplated true love, but there is one person who always has love on her mind. She talks about love and encourages others to think about and share love. SMT met Kang Heejeong, a representative of social lifestyle planet Good Work, who warms the world with real love.
What prompted you to found Good Work?
I spent 6 months volunteering in Uganda few years ago. During that time, I had a chance to reflect on sharing. Not much after I returned to Korea at the end of the volunteer project, the Sewol Ferry tragedy happened. Everyone in Korea was shocked by the sinking. I grieved too, and I asked myself, ‘what is going on in Korea?’ I soon realized that there was an absence of love for fellow citizens in Korea. I knew I had to do something that would make people share and spread love. I decided to do what I could do in the place where I stand right now. That is how it all began.
What do you think the love is?
My reflection on love brought me to realize 5 philosophies. First, love is altruistic. Second, love is everyday life. I mean, it’s not a one-time event. It occurs on a daily basis. Third, love should be action that comes from the heart. If it is felt only in the heart, nothing tangible happens. Action alone can be ostentatious. When a sincere heart leads to action, love occurs. Fourth, love starts from the individual. I believe that Korea will realize love if individuals change. Before big change can happen, small change is needed in each individual. Only after one person changes can others be influenced to change and that is when love occurs, which is my fifth philosophy.
You emphasize love a lot. What does love look like to you? Would you explain it using your new drawing project?
As I said just before, love can be practiced anywhere and at any time in everyday life. The important thing is to keep a cycle of thought in my mind. For example, you need to remove the idea that you are more important than others. However, be cautious as well. I used to follow that idea blindly in the name of my work and for Good Work. I made an error in judgment. In other words, excessive faith in only one’s goals prevents us from seeing clearly. As a result, I think love is the here and now. Love is the immediate moment. Love is today. At Good Work café, I offer guests paper and pencil crayons to use to draw pictures of what love is to them. I also draw pictures and my pictures are used on T-shirts for Uganda children through our T-shirt volunteering project. My drawing is a picture of two people who both look each other and view the world differently. Despite their differences, the two individuals communicate and love each other. I wanted to show how love is stronger than words through the picture. For example, when we have something to say, we can speak using microexpressions on our face instead of words. That is, love can be expressed without word, but with a sincere heart.
What is Good Work Pocket?
Good Work Pocket is a fashionable key ring and one of the organization’s projects. In fact, this project represents the core of Good Work and is the first endeavor of the organization. All five philosophies of love mentioned earlier are fused into Good Work Pocket. It can be attached easily to any bag. It holds coins, candies, vitamins, and others. For instance, maybe you have some coins in the key ring. Confronting a homeless person, you can easily open the key ring and give them some needed help. Without easy access to small trivial items, people often pass by opportunities to share love with others in need, despite having a heartfelt intention of helping. However, it is easy to practice love with Good Work Pocket.
Why did you establish Good Work Pocket as a sole-proprietorship endeavor?
In its beginnings, I offered Good Work Pocket to others for free. However, I found that people often turn a blind eye towards things that are free and others merely take the free work for granted. To compensate for this, I commercialized Good Work Pocket. I made each one by hand because I wanted to control the color of Good Work Pocket items. Each pocket symbolizes one person’s daily life, and everyone is unique, so all items’ coloring needs to be special and different.
What other project does Good Work have?
Currently, there is Love Box project, which operates out of the Good Work Planet café. Before I found Good Work, I spent 5 years for working part-time. One of those part-time jobs was working at a café. I was a trained furniture designer, but I made coffee out of financial necessity. I firmly believe my work at the café would one day be useful. I even dreamt of opening a donation café, where people could choose to donate directly to specific person or group. My initial thoughts are embodied in Love Box. Love Box is a box that is left out in the café for customers to drop coins into. The box represents not only just the coin donation but also love. Drinking a cup of coffee is an everyday and common pleasure for many people. However, when the customer orders a cup of coffee at Good Work Planet, they are also donating a 500 won, which is contained in the price of coffee.
To whom does the gift in Love Box go?
At first, I approached the Love Box as the concept of a gift rather than donation. For instance, the coins in the Love Box became funds for pocket warmers for building custodial staff or gifts of energy drinks to prevent bus drivers from drowsiness. I wanted to share love through the gifts, but it was not as easy as I had expected. People preferred cash rather than gifts. Therefore, I switched to monetary donations. I dream of a diversified Love Box. I hoped that the Good Work project would receive reports from individuals nominating someone in their community who they felt was in immediate need of help. However, we don’t receive many nominations or suggestions, so right now, I ask around to find people in need and who need love. In the case of Ms. Park Seongnyeo, I found her through an introduction from a secondhand shopkeeper near Good Work Planet. I also got to know Soochang, a painter through an introduction from a staff at City Hall. Soochang suffers from a developmental disorder, but he dreams of being an artist. The best thing I can do for him is to support him with the little I can give, continue our friendship, and give my whole heart willingly. I bought him art supplies, which he desperately needed, with donated money.
When do you feel most rewarded doing work for the Good Work project?
Actually, I’m barely staying afloat, but it is truly rewarding when I see the recipients’ happy faces. I went through a lot of hard times, and many people around me advised to earn money first and then donate. However, I disagreed with them. I believe in the act of sharing, so even when I feel burdened, the faces on people I’ve helped make me feel alive. Once visitors drop by and learn of the goals of the project, they start to incorporate the ideas into their lifestyles and fall in love with act of giving love. Once that happens, I feel very rewarded. One time an angry faced couple dropped by. I carefully explained the purpose behind our project, but the couple didn’t respond emotionally to my introduction. However, I am confident they are not the same two individuals as when they came in. I believe they became warm hearted.
When did you feel most burdened by Good Work?
My work is a business, but it's for the greater good, so I try to manage the two concepts together. That is, I set a good balance of reality and idealism. I once had a huge disagreement with the building owner. At the time of the lease, we had agreed on a special agreement, but he refused to accept my complaint. He said, “Who sticks to the contract? You can't do successful business like that.” I was so angry and wanted to continue arguing, but I stepped back in the name of the aim of Good Work. At the core, we are a business that is founded on good relations with everyone and the spread of good intentions. If I had continued the argument, we would have lost our working relationship. In the end, we avoided the crisis and are continuing to enjoy a good relationship. I do not advocate for giving into unjust situations. All of us should step up to any injustice and correct the error, but at the same time, I wondered if the fight was worth it. Should I have continued the argument? I worried about my business behavior. I try to be head strong, but it didn’t lead to a good solution, so I’m trying to live the ideal life. I thought I knew about business, but the reality was different. Through my many trials and errors, I found the best way is to keep my own goals clearly in view.
Do you have any new projects you’d like to start on at Good Work?
Right now, I’m hoping to create a project that is based on the designing of a personal donation product. It’s called ‘Draw Flow’. People draw images of love from ideas that are close to their heart and decide who they wish to donate them to. Based on the drawings, I hope to create items that could be marketed. The item creator would then earn money by selling their creations, and the person who drew the picture would donate the amount they earned directly.
Before we finish, could we ask you to say a few words to Sookmyungians?
The world is a tough place in which to live. I think it is constantly getting harder each generation, but even though the world may be leading you down one path in life, if you do not wish to walk that direction, change your route. It is important for everyone to know who they truly are in the inside and what they really stand for. These recognitions will lead you to be honest with what you really want to do in life. Nowadays, many people are brainwashed by society expectations and media stereotypes, and I think it will worsen. There are many times when I question whether my action is really making a difference in the world. For anyone in a harder situation than yourself, I hope that you listen to the voice in your mind. Most importantly, I wish that each of you find love at the center of sincere honest actions and thoughts.
-Graduate of Industrial Design from Konkuk University '07
-Founder of Good Work (2014)
-Founder of Corporation Good Work Planet (2018)
Kim Ma Seunghee / Editor-in-Chief
Kim Shin Hyerin / Society Section Editor
Oh Kim Youbin / Culture Section Editor