In one of the numerous still shots of random memories in my head is a children’s book standing in the corner of the bookshelf at my old house, whose title translates to “Hope for the Flowers” in English. Never having read the book, I actually have no idea what it is about, but the phrase has been on my mind a lot lately.Whether it be assisting the elderly living alone or building houses for families in the Third World countries, I think it is safe to assume that many of us are accustomed to receiving some sort of recognition in return for the volunteer work we do. This is probably because there is a certain amount of value we place on the worthiness of our time, that if it is not spent for ourselves or a cause we believe in, we prefer to have it be properly compensated.This is certainly the way I thought of my time, and the answer to whether I should do something for an “other” when there is clearly nothing on the surface to be gained from it was almost always a “no,” unless I was driven to do otherwise due to guilt or responsibility.One of the schools I do volunteer service for is the middle school that I had graduated from, and I am in charge of teaching seven students who had received the lowest grades in English the past semester. Charged with my teachers’ high expectations and warnings that the students will probably be unwilling to study hard let alone come to class, I was not only under pressure to boost these students’ grades but also dismayed to find that their English levels varied greatly even among themselves.Of these students, one stood out to me not only because of her small size but also because she had the lowest grade from the past semester – a mere 10 out of 100. Even when I explained grammar points at snail speed, she seemed so lost that after class, I found myself asking her if she had time for an extra lesson during the Korean Thanksgiving holidays. She gave me a hearty yes, and during that short conversation with her, I found out that she had moved to Seoul from a small island a year ago, has two younger sisters and her father has passed away already. That cast a certain spell on me. Over the course of the next 10 days or so, I ended up meeting her one-on-one three more times to prepare her for midterm exams. True, she lacked basic English knowledge, making me lower my expectations every time. Nevertheless, something in me led me to offer my spare time in a somewhat dire way.This could be because I am still naive to the sudden rush of sympathy I felt and have not seen enough of the world to be thwarted into the realization of the existence of the fine line between what I can do and what I can but should not do all the same. It could also be that I just have not realized the true meaning of volunteer service until now. Regardless, I keep thinking that if a little of my time can be a hand of hope for a small bud of flower that is yet to bloom, that itself is a clear indicator as to the answer.I am not one of those who think that time is absolute – I believe time is born to one as one spends it. That is, the busier one is, the more time one has to spend, while the less busy end up with less time than one might expect. I am sorry to admit, however, that all of this is valid only up to a certain point. Up to that certain point, I guarantee that anyone can still do their share in all their engagements if they put their mind to it.I was at that marginal point at the start of this semester; tutoring two students and doing teaching voluntary service at two different schools, I had only two days every two weeks to spend any way as I pleased.My decision to do so had been firm and I was determined not to let anything get in the way of spending my minutes like their rightful master. However, some compellations like the special feeling of giving hope for the flowers lead me to do otherwise.
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