ALBERT EINSTEIN said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Many wonder why and how; life is hard even when you live it just for yourself. But to those who are lost, documentary producer Kim Young-mee provides an answer: to truly live is to think about what is happening in the other side of the world. You may not be able to reach your hands towards people there. You do not have to. Only some will get the actual chance to do so. Yet, the moment you are thinking and caring about them makes your life worthwhile because then you are being truly humane. That is love. It is what defines Kim’s life. It is what made her voyage 14 years ago a sojourn that changed everything.
It started with East Timor
It was 1999, when Kim heard of women victimized during internal wars in East Timor. Women were violated and killed as the conflicts between Falintil, the East Timorese guerilla force, and the Indonesian force aggrandized. Kim, in her age of 30, was shocked by the women’s suffering. She wanted to witness what was happening and hear the stories of the Timorese people. What led to the cruelty they experienced? She did not have a clue that this trip would become the starting point of a new career for her.
The trip was filled with the stories of the Timorese people she met. They were grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, friends, cousins, colleagues, and neighbors. It was as if Kim were there to gather all the stories they had to tell. “We talked about trivial things. We complained about life, we talked about all the loss we had, but we also talked about what were valuable to us,” Kim says. She was overwhelmed by their painful lives. She was determined. She wanted to tell the stories she learned to those back home.
As she was considering how, the thought of creating a documentary film struck her mind. She wanted to make a television documentary because television was, among the various kinds of media, the most accessible in Korea. “I wanted ordinary people to watch the film and learn about what people in East Timor were going through because the people I met were ordinary too, just like them.” She amalgamated the pieces of numerous lives she encountered and called the assemblage “The Blue Angel in East Timor.” What started with her curiosity about the suffering women had led to the creation of a film on Timorese people and their pain. Her very first documentary was released in 2000 by SBS.
The Continued Journey
East Timor was only the start. Kim was then driven to visit Afghanistan to create a film on discrimination against women. Her film “Women without Burkas” in 2002, and those that came after, engaged the audience each year. Kim visited countries where there were conflicts and suffering. Wars in Iraq, diamond mines in Sierra Leon, drugs and abductions in Columbia, war breakouts in Lebanon, and the Coffee Road along the Himalaya Mountains were some of the topics she chose to work on.
In 2006, a Korean ship called “Dong Won” was abducted by Somali pirates. To her surprise, no journalist or broadcasting station attempted to deal with the issue. “I thought it was my duty. Someone had to be there to see what was happening. Or else, nobody could help them.” Kim says, at first, she was not afraid of what she was to face in Somalia. Yet, it was when she heard that her friend died in Somalia that she realized how dangerous her journey could be. “Imagine driving through the jungles alone where there are no roads. I was creating my own paths. I even thought of going back,” she says. But if there was one thing that kept her going, it was her sense of responsibility.
Having achieved great features of documenting lives, while risking her life for the sake of delivering message of hope, Kim is assiduous yet self-abating. When asked what she feels like each time she finishes her film work, Kim answered without hesitation, “relief and nothing more. It is not a sense of achievement but a sense of relief that I have survived. There is no time to think about how brave I was or how great the work I made was. After filming comes editing, then release. And then, I search for the next item I want to get started on.”
A life of a messenger
Many years ago, Kim encountered an Afghan girl named Omairah, who begged on the streets to support her mother and little brother. Once, her mother told Kim: “I do not want my daughter to live the life I lived.” Kim helped the family and spent much time with Omairah, even after the mother passed away. Omairah, just as her mother had wished, lived a different life. Against social taboos that opposed education of women, she went to school. She grew up as an independent woman. Kim remembers and records her encounters with people, like the one with Omairah’s family, although not every story gets to be told. “It is sad, though, that I cannot account all encounters in my films or books. There is only so much I can tell through the media.”
But Kim likes her job of meeting people, learning about them and telling other people the stories she heard. She calls herself a messenger, a deliverer of the stories she learns from places especially of conflict. She wants to continue telling people what she witnesses until the day she cannot anymore. Through her work, she wants the youth to realize that it is not difficult to change the world. “I hope young people will keep thinking what they can do to help people who suffer. No one chose to be born to suffer, and we did not choose to be born this way. The world waits to be changed. And it can change if people care for others.”
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The message she delivers is one rather grave, that there are people dying in other parts of the world. Yet, the purpose lies in telling others that there is hope, if they would care. And what makes them truly human is the love they can show by thinking about the pain other people are going through and struggling to solve them. Imagine how beautiful the world can be if each person’s life is a sojourn for people who need help. Kim showed us how such world can be created. It is so simple. It will start with your journey.