Sometimes I make the incredibly arrogant mistake of thinking of Korea as a monorace society with some Americans, Canadians, and gyopos mixed in. I never really think of the presence of other minorities, aside from the weekend Filipino market in Daehangro or the Indian men who sell earrings on the streets.
Hyehwa Station: weekend Filipino market
Foreign migrant workers are a silent but significant presence in Seoul. In Korea's monorace society, they make up 50% of the foreign population. On top of that, 65% of all foreign workers in Korea are in the nation illegally. Most come from the Philippines, Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.
It's practically impossible for these illegal migrant workers to get adequate health care in Korea--not only are they unable to afford expensive medical treatment, but they can't get any type of health insurance because of their illegal status, and employers often take advantage of them by further lowering their meager wages.
Good Neighbor Clinic is a free clinic for migrant workers in Korea that helps remedy this problem. I went there to volunteer today:
The clinic is held on Sundays at Gyeongdong Church (경동 교회) at Dongdaemun Stadium station. This clinic is unique in that not only does it offer free health care and drugs, but also offers a barber shop in the basement, free lunch, a place for patients to sit and rest, and clothing.
When I arrived, patients were standing outside waiting for treatment. Meanwhile, I went through the orientation and training session for volunteers, where I learned that although offered by Gyeongdong Church, the free clinic is unique in that it doesn't pressure its patients nor its volunteers to convert or attend church services, which I found impressive. (Also, I was surprised by how much of the 2 hour lecture--all in Korean--I found myself being able to understand!)
Good Neighbor Clinic is held only on Sundays, the only day of rest for many Koreans. Most of the doctors and directors who volunteer only have Sundays off their regular workweeks, and so sacrifice 2 of the 4 days a month that they have off to work at the clinic. In fact, the clinic was based on the passage of the Bible where Jesus healed the shriveled hand of a man on the Sabbath, despite the Pharisees' disapproval. One patient from Vietnam that I saw today, who injured his hand working at a sock factory comes to mind...
I volunteered in the main treatment room escorting patients to and from different stations (surgery, injections, blood treatment, pharmacy, etc.):
I also got to listen to the doctors (my station was Surgery) diagnose patients and prescribe treatments, really good language experience since everything was in Korean.
I had worried that my lack of fluency in Korean would be a problem, but it ended up not being an issue because the most of the patients weren't fluent in Korean either. The clinic encourages volunteers to take a personal interest in patients, and I was able to talk to the patients about their home countries and their lives. I was impressed while conversing with patients who worked and lived in Korea without fully knowing Korean--they were skilled at working around the gaps in their language ability and communicating! A valuable skill for any language learner, since no matter how long you study a language, there'll always be a time when some inventive groping for the right term will come in useful.