Oct. 1 marks the “International Day of Older Persons,” a day made to raise awareness about social problems related to the elderly. The number of elderly people is increasing every year continuously, so the government has made various welfare policies such as educational programs for them.
However, compared to cities, the elderly education service in rural areas is insufficient in that the education does not continue to be progressive. After realizing these problems, Gil Hye-lim and Heo Chae-woon made a startup club “Silver Bridge” for providing elderly people with diverse educational opportunities. The Argus met them and listened to what activities they do for elderly people.
The Argus: Please introduce yourself.
Gil Hye-lim (Gil): Hello. I am Gil Hye-lim, a leader of Silver Bridge. I major in Economics at Sookmyung Women’s University.
Heo Chae-woon (Heo): Hi. I am Heo Chae-woon, a co-leader of Silver Bridge. I major in German Language and Culture at Sookmyung Women’s University.
The Argus: Please explain Silver Bridge.
Gil: Silver Bridge is an entrepreneur club that supports the elderly living in the rural areas and provides them with educational opportunities in order to increase their quality of life. Silver in “Silver Bridge” is a symbolic color for elderly people. Bridge means that we connect education between urban and rural areas, and act as a bridge between elderly people and other generations.
The Argus: How did you initiate the entrepreneur club, Silver Bridge?
Gil: First, we learned about the problems related to elderly people’s Hangeul education in a business startup class. According to statistics conducted by the National Academy of the Korean Language, the illiteracy rate of people in their seventies is 19.8 percent. Although the illiteracy rate of Koreans is low in comparison with other countries, that of older Koreans is relatively high. Thus, we decided to inform others about these problems socially, and we progressed to “Daum Kakao Story Funding” for sponsoring a Hangeul school in the county of Bonghwa in North Gyeongsang Province. Consequently, we raised 1 million won (US$894.85) as supporting money. With the money, we bought desks, blackboards and writing instruments needed in classes and delivered them to a Hangeul school. Through these experiences, we decided to offer a wider range of education, so we made Silver Bridge.
The Argus: What activities did Silver Bridge do in detail?
Heo: We participated in a social venture idea contest hosted by the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and learned how to put ideas into practice from many mentors. Then, we produced a “Poem that includes long years and resembles wrinkle,” a collection of poems that elderly people in Bonghwa county wrote first-hand, after learning Hangeul. Afterward, we had a gathering to commemorate the publication of a collection of poems and read the poems and reviews to them.
Furthermore, we made the poems in a calligraphy style with assistance from experts. Then we sold them in a flea market for the purpose of using the money earned to educate elderly people. In the flea market, a mother explained the meaning of this event to her child and let him know the importance of the elderly education. In this respect, we think it was a good opportunity to impart things associated with elderly education to the people.
The Argus: Does Silver Bridge have anything special unlike other elderly education programs?
Heo: We think Silver Bridge has distinctive initiatives compared to the programs provided by the government. First of all, we offer practical and customized classes to elderly people, not only providing educational information.
Most education centers, such as Seniors Welfare Centers, are very modern because they usually teach foreign languages, computer and smartphone directions. However, we thought these types of education are not the most necessary part for the elderly. Therefore, we thought that classes in which elderly people participate altogether will help to treat elderly depression which is one of the problems of the aged.
To fulfill this, one of the plans is a “Makeup Lesson” at which grandmothers can apply various cosmetics. Also, elderly people can heal their hearts by participating in “Painting Murals” programs that make shabby murals beautiful.
The Argus: How about the circumstances in which elderly people are actually educated?
Gil: The problems of Hangeul education are very serious in that it is concentrated in the city. In the case of the county of Bonghwa, a budget for Hangeul education costs 7 million won (US$6,263.98) a year. By the way, most of that money is used for inviting teachers, so it is very hard to equip the schools with educational supplies. Even, inviting instructors periodically is difficult, due to the budget constrain. As a result, most programs are conducted only once or twice a year. In response, the government made classes as Internet lectures, but it is also difficult for the elderly studying.
Additionally, the county of Bonghwa can only select four senior-citizen centers a year, so those who do not belong to these four cannot receive education. Elderly people usually require one year to take the elementary course. However, if their senior-citizen centers are not chosen as education places in the subsequent year, they cannot take the intermediate course. Eventually, they have no choice but to forget Hangeul.
The Argus: How much interest do people have in the education of the elderly?
Heo: People’s interest seems temporary. When people see the education of the elderly in the media, they are interested in it for a while, but their attention does not last long. I think it is because the thought, “I am far from growing old,” is dominant in society.
In the end, elderly education became distanced from people's attention. Therefore, I think it is important that these perceptions disappear and everyone should continue to be interested in elderly education.
The Argus: What do you want to change the most socially through Silver Bridge activities?
Heo: Our goal is to make a soial atmosphere in which people respect the elderly and to change awareness about them positively.
People often have perceptions that elderly people are always one step behind in the transitioning of society. However, there is an African saying, “If an old man dies in a village, it is like a library burns.” Like this, the elderly have wisdom and know-how on life. Nevertheless, as they currently are separated from society, they cannot show their wisdom.
Accordingly, we think if we make many opportunities to be able to communicate between elderly people and the younger generation, a perception that elderly people are also members of society can be formed.
The Argus: What are your future plans?
Gil: We are trying to establish a profit model for solving problems of financial support. As well, the elderly who live in the countryside have difficulties in coming and going to the Seniors Welfare Center due to long-distance commutes. Therefore, we will try out best to eliminate these issues by meeting with many social enterprises and entrepreneurs.
The Argus: Do you have any messages to convey to the readers of The Argus?
Gil: Although the first button of life is important, fastening the last button well is also significant. Thus, we hope society will grow in the direction of having a lot of attention on the education for the elderly. To do this, we want you to think first about the problems of the aged and about what kind of environments you want to live in when you become an elderly person. Based on this, all members of society should make efforts to create such a good environment. Moreover, we hope you always remember that your interest can be helpful to the elderly.
After understanding the problems elderly education faces in rural areas, Silver Bridge has progressed with various activities, like Hangeul education. The reporter hopes their sincerity and endeavors for informing people about these types of problems will reach into the mind of everyone. Furthermore, we should strive all together to provide a better educational environment through sympathy and a steady interest in the elderly.
By Jang Yu-jin
Staff Reporter of National Section