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Wanju’s Innovative Projects

Wanju Citizens’ Autonomous School set up in the village hall

The Whole of the Village Is a School

The senior citizen center and the village hall are so crowded. Bent old ladies and the cute little hands of children sit around to make pottery, and men and women of all ages learn yoga moves. Local women gather to make natural soap, and there is also a village where they bake pizza for the first time and share it among neighbors. The front yard of the apartment is also shaking to the ‘dungdeokung’ rhythm of the Janggu. This is the scene of a citizen’s autonomous school supported by the Wanju Cultural City Support Center. This literally means that residents of a ‘village’ can learn ‘self-determined’ things together. The village hall, which was considered only as a ‘senior citizen center,’ is transforming into a community space that connects neighbors with neighbors.

‘Citizen’s Autonomous School’ where residents learn what they want to

The Citizen’s Autonomous School that Wanju Cultural City Support Center has been running since last year is a village school where residents learn what they want to in their own village with their neighbors. It is planned for the villagers themselves to suggest or plan what cultural activities to do or what education they want to receive, in order to grow together and change the village. The support center provides them with consulting, an education program setting, professionals, and learning tools to implement self-determined educational themes and contents suggested by the residents.

Last year, tens of villages participated. Their themes and methods were all different: Gyeongcheon-myeon’s ‘Village Goods Development School’, Gosan-myeon’s ‘Youtube Editing School’, Dongsang-myeon’s ‘Our Village’s Interpreter School’, Bongdong-eup’s ‘SNS School for Moms’, and ‘Drawing School with Hangeul’. Based on these successful results, 10 villages applied for the citizen’s autonomous school in the first half of 2022, and 10 other villages will open them in the second half. Last year, the project opened in December, the agricultural off-season, and it is divided into the first and second halves of the year from this year, to reflect citizens’ various needs. 


A school where seniors and children learn together

‘Bamtoljomulak (chestnut finger-play) school’ in Oiyul Village in Gosan-myeon

Yulgok-li, Gosan-myeon, where Oiyul Village is located, is ‘chestnut valley’ in Korean. The ‘yul’ of Oiyul Village is ‘chestnut’, too. It is called Oiyul as it is located outside the foot of the mountain were there are lots of chestnut trees. The name of the small library on the second floor of the village hall is ‘Chestnut Library,’ and ‘Chestnut Finger-play School’ that was opened for two months during July and August, comes from the same root. The principal of the school was Go Eunyeong, who is a teacher of a middle school, but was on maternity leave.

After discussion, residents of the village decided to learn to make pottery.

At first, the elderly ladies felt weird having classes at the village school. The oldest participant among them is 89 year old Lee Jeongsu. The others range in age from late 70s to 80s, and the children of the village also joined. As most of the ladies had no experience of going to school, it was strange to learn something from somebody else, but thanks to the experienced teacher they soon became interested in the classes. When they were asked to bring some grass and flowers to decorate their pottery, some of them brought so much. They said they were looking forward to the village classes now.

Go Eunyeong, principal of the school, says that through this village school, we have confirmed the possibility that the elderly and children can transcend generations and be together. “Learning to make pottery itself was beneficial and enjoyable, of course, but I think the fact that the elderly ladies revealed their inner stories is more meaningful.”


Happiness through a simple taste

‘Bread Baking Village School’ in Seodu Village, Bongdong-eup

Seodu Village, located in Gumi-ri, Bongdong-eup, produces a great amount of ginger, and has been known as "Ginger Valley" since ancient times. In the past, after harvesting ginger, it is said that the people traveled nationwide to sell ginger, from Gangwon-do to Jeju-do.

The village hall, where the village school was opened, was newly built in 2002 when it was chosen as an information village. After that, when it was selected as a local industrial village in 2014, villagers raised funds to invest in creating a farming association corporation, and the village hall was extended to the second floor to allow space to prepare a ginger processing room on the first floor. Using this ginger processing room, they have managed an ‘Experiencing Recreation Village’ since 2019. In the second half of 2019, the number of visitors to the experiencing activities exceeded 1,000, but the number of visitors has since decreased by 500 per year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Park Miseon, village office manager, was thinking about a program where the villagers could work together, and found out that the Wanju Cultural City Support Center supports the village school. After consulting with the villagers about ways to utilize the cooking facilities in the ginger processing room, there were many with the opinion to use the room to learn how to make bread. They made a decision to open ‘Bread Baking School’ for two months, during July and August, when the villagers are free from ginger work. With a bakery expert as an instructor, they decided to make madeleines, sweet red bean bread, makgeoli bread, s, pizza, soboro bread, walnut pies and roll cakes.

Gradually, the old ladies began to take more of an interest. They were used to making kalguksu and sujebi with flour, but they didn't know that there were different types of flour, such as strong flour and medium flour, which they found out while learning to make bread. They were also amazed that the methods of kneading were different depending on the types of bread or snacks. When we decided to bring our own ingredients for the pizza toppings they brought many vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, and basil. We made bread while eating lunch together in the village hall. Then, seeing that it would take quite a lot of time, we decided to make a lot of bread and share it with neighbors. Bread was shared with the households in the village, and later our baking activities escalated. Some suggested sharing bread with those who work hard for the community. The bread made in the class of the village school was distributed to the county office, fire station, town office, and police substation.

Park Miseon, who was in charge of general affairs, feels rewarded for opening a village school under the theme of making bread. 

"The elderly ladies love it so much. Some say that this is the first time they have ever tasted pizza in their entire life. When would the elderly in the countryside have ever had the chance to eat madeleines or walnut pies? How wonderful it must be to have experienced the joy of making such foods by themselves and sharing them with their neighbors. It’s so sad that it ended after two months, and they keep asking me when we’ll do it again.”


Bring the village to life with an exciting beat

‘Eolssu Dudeurim School’ at Inno Hills Apartments, Iseo-myeon

Inno Hills Apartments in Iseo-myeon is an apartment complex built in 2013. As it is a village located inside Jeonju-Wanju Innovation City, it is not a rural area, and most of the residents of the 650 households are not natives of Iseo-myeon. Although it is difficult in many ways to form a village community, the elderly tend to congregate well around the apartment senior citizen center. In particular, after being selected as the "Byeolbyeol Village Hall" project of Wanju Cultural City Support Center, the senior citizen center was improved upon last year, and now they have become more active. Even before the village school was opened, they had been engaged in various activities for the mental and physical health of the elderly, including singing classes, yoga, and speed cup stacking.

The educational program of Inno Hills Apartments’ village school, "Eolssu Dudeurim School," is ‘seoljanggu.’ The principal of the village school is Hwang Myeonggi, who has been leading the Senior Citizens' Association since 2018. He said they chose seoljanggu for members of the Senior Citizens' Association, whose desire to stay active in mind and body naturally wanes as time goes by, to be revitalized through exciting beats and performing appropriate physical activities. It would be more exciting to play samulnori, which involves playing gongs, kkwaenggwari, drums, and janggu, but being mindful of keeping the noise down in the apartment complex, they decided to only play janggu to lessen the excessive noise. Though they play only one, the janggu, their shoulders automatically move up and down to the exciting janggu rhythm of about a dozen members playing in unison.

The attendance rate at Eolssu Dudeurim School is 100%. Senior members, who are students of the village school, always say that they are looking forward to the next class. Even when they return home, they practice the rhythm by tapping the table with empty hands, absent of the janggu. That shows how much fun it is and it instills in them a vitality for life. As they had fun and practiced so hard, their janggu skills have improved a lot. They learned gutgeori, whimori, and even jajinmori rhythms. It is rare to see this kind of village community culture in apartments in urban rather than rural areas. It is their consistent wish of the members that they want to continue to gather and learn seoljanggu even after the village school program is over. So they will continue the meetings at any cost.


Exercises to relax the body and mind of the elderly

‘Snail Yoga Class’ in Yongyeon Village, Soyang-myeon

Yongyeon Village, located about 1 km east of downtown Soyang-myeon, is called ‘Yongyeon’ because there is a dragon pond in the stream in front of the village. There are 170 residents living in 70 households in this village, and as in other rural villages, there are many elderly people. It is said that there has never been a major problem in the village due to the good harmony among the residents from generation to generation.

In the village, ‘Snail Yoga Class’, was held at a village school, from last June to August.

Han Bo-hyun, who is the head of the village and planner of the village school program, said, "Most of the villagers are elderly, so we decided to learn yoga after considering ways to relieve their fatigue from farming and revitalize their minds and bodies." 

This is because yoga improves flexibility of the body by using muscles that are not normally used, and strengthens muscle strength through various movements.

Most of the participants of the Snail Yoga Class in Yongyeon Village were in their 70s and some of them were in their 80s. At first, it was not easy for them to learn yoga moves because of their old age and stiffened backs from long farm work. Lee Eunhee, instructor of the yoga class, first taught abdominal breathing, the basics of yoga, and let them slowly follow her breathing. After they learned breathing and basic movements, she repeatedly guided them in postures that can improve immunity, and others to be used in daily life and improve muscle strength while balancing the body. If it was difficult for them to follow, she let them rest and join again when they could move comfortably.


After the steady training like that, the elderly became more and more interested. They participated more actively feeling their stiffened muscles loosen up, and their bodies become more supple. At first, it started with 11 people, but the number of participants gradually increased, and later the village hall filled up so much it became cramped. On the last day of the Snail Yoga Class, on the 16th of August, the village hall was full. All of the participants felt sorry that the village school period was too short.


Soap made by native residents and newcomers, communicating with each other

‘Bbodeudeuk Soap Perfume School’ in Pyeongji Village, Bibong-myeon

Pyeongji Village has about 30 residents in 15 households. There are five households of people who once lived in the city and have now returned to their hometowns. All the villagers live such a simple and generous life that they get along well without any conflict between native residents and newcomers. Kim Sookja, principal of the village school, is also a returnee who has been living in the village for four years.

The village school in Pyeongji Village, which was operated from July to August of this year, was ‘Bbodedeuk Soap Perfume School.’ They learned the process of making eco-friendly soap using agricultural products and natural ingredients grown in the village. Pyeongji Village is an eco-friendly village where, due to not using herbicides for farming, fireflies live comfortably. A variety of products were made and shared among residents, including a shampoo bar made of ginseng sprouts grown by villagers, an insect repellent necessary for country life where mosquitoes and insects are everywhere, a facial soap made of eoseongcho grown in the village, candles with wildflower aromas, eco-friendly kitchen detergents using coffee grounds, and moisturizers made of natural oil.

All the residents who tried the soap and shampoo made by themselves using natural ingredients say, "I don't think I can use other soap anymore." "The shampoo we made has softened our hair even though we don't use conditioner separately. At this rate, the soap and the shampoo businesses will close soon." Old ladies who said they had never used bath bombs in their lives were very amazed and liked them. They say they don’t have bathtubs in their houses, so they dissolve the bath bomb in a large rubber tub and enjoy a bath.

Kim Sookja, principal of Bbodedeuk Soap Perfume School, says “I feel how important it is to have a space for community activities like this in the village. It's really precious to be able to get together and do something together in an aging and culturally alienated rural area."

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