Philanthropist and explorer Um Hong-gil wins prestigious Manhae Grand Prize


Um Hong-gil (UHF)

By Sang-ki Lee
Former President of the Journalists Association of Korea
CEO of Magazine N and AsiaN

SEOUL: Um Hong-gil, the first man to climb the 16 highest peaks on Earth and Chairman of the Um Hong-gil Human Foundation (UHF), has been awarded the 2020 Manhae Grand Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes in Korea.

The award is given annually to commemorate Han Yong-woon (1879-1944), a monk, poet and thinker, as well as a great hero of the anti-imperialist movement, known by the pen name ‘Manhae’.

Um Hong-gil, 59, said he was deeply touched “to have been positively evaluated for living a horizontal life of ‘volunteering’ in the vertical life of ‘climbing’.”

He has built an international reputation of bravery, determination and courage, overcoming human limits with his indomitable will and believing that his biggest opponent is himself. overcame

“I’m not afraid of dying anymore, but what I am afraid of is my own mind, that I would want to quit,” he once told the media.

Um has been an ambassador for the Asia Journalists Association (AJA) since 2018.

For 30 years up to 2007, Um’s life was marked by reaching the Himalayan peaks. Afterwards, he has been sharing his dreams and hopes with both Korean and Nepalese youths.

Mountains above 8,000m climbed by Um Hong-gil

Mountains above 8,000m climbed by Um Hong-gil

Um has scaled Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, three times. And in 2001, he became the ninth climber to reach the top of 14 peaks higher than 8,000 meters in the Himalayas, collectively called “eight-thousanders.”

He later stood on the top of Yalung Kang (8,505 meters) in 2004 and Lhotse Shar (8,382m) in 2007, becoming the first to climb the world’s 16 highest points.

In 2008, he focused his energy on humanitarian work. “You have to go up to the 17th place of life through service, volunteering,” he said.

He established the Um Hong-gil Human Foundation, a non-political and non-religious humanitarian organization that built 16 model community schools in the remote areas of Nepal and actively worked to enhance the quality of health and education services.

According to Nepalese media, the foundation has been assisting the vulnerable children of Nepal by empowering them through education and other supportive activities. It aims to help the children, schools and communities by providing a safer, healthier and more effective learning environment for the better world.



Um Hong-gil

It has been carrying out various activities like constructing clean, safe, earthquake-resistant, well-equipped and child-friendly school buildings, building libraries and science laboratories and constructing toilets, in coordination with the Government of Nepal.

He has been hosting various events such as ‘Youth Hope Expedition’, ‘Climbing Contest’ and ‘DMZ Peace and Unification March’ for Korean teenagers, allowing them to deepen their sense of humanism and challenge.

“I saw the world beneath the mountain only after I reached the 16th spot”, he said. “The first thing that caught my eyes was the poor educational environment of Nepalese teenagers. I will continue to serve the country and youth, following the path of Manhae Han Young-un, a national poet and independent activist.”

He said his dream is to build a human school town, a comprehensive school comprising elementary, middle, high schools and universities.

Um Hong-gil, a greeting from the completion ceremony of Lumbini Human School

Um Hong-gil at the completion ceremony of Lumbini Human School

Um has been sending 5000 rupees (about 50,000 won) every month since 1999 to 25 bereaved families of Sherpa who died while climbing the mountain together. The monthly salary of Nepalese workers is about 100000 won.

“The construction of the Human School was possible only thanks to 7,000 sponsored members, including 1,300 regular sponsored members, who had dedication to help. I sincerely thank them,” he said.

Um has been an ambassador for the Asian Journalists Association through ‘The Climbing of Korea and China’s Disabled Children to Baekdu Mountain’ and ‘Um Hong-gil and Oh Eun-sun’s Challenge Talk’ (2010).

Other winners of this year’s Manhae Grand Prize, which honors the life and spirit of Manhae Han Yong-un (1879-1944) are Peace Awards : Potirak Monk, 86, the founder of the Thai Buddhism community, Practice Awards : Um Hong-gil, Daegu Dongsan Hospital and Art and Literature Awards : Kim Joo-young novelist and Shin Dal-ja poet.


The 2020 Manhae Awards ceremony will be held on August 12 during the Manhae Festival near Baekdamsa Temple in Inje, Ganwon Province.

This year’s festival, from August 11 to August 14, will be held in compliance with quarantine guidelines to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Manhae Festival will be co-hosted by the Manhae Ideology Practice Association, Inje, Dongguk University and the Chosun Ilbo.

Previous Manhae Award recipients in the Peace Awards category include Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Kim Dae-jung, the former president of South Korea, Shirin Ebadi, Iranian lawyer and 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, Jeong joo-young chairman, Kim seong-soo, Anglican bishop and poet Kim Ji-ha.

In the Art and Literature Award category, the laureates were Wole Soyinka, Lee O-Young, Hwang Seok-young, Ko Eun, Shin Kyung-lim, Cho Jeong-rae, Robert Pinsky (US Poet Laureate), Mò Yán (Nobel Prize in Literature),  Shaikha Suad Mohammad Al Sabah (Kuwaiti poetess), Lim Kwon-taek and Lee Mi-ja

In the Practice Awards category, the winners were Lee So-sun (Mother of Jeon Tae-il), Lee Sae-jung lawyer and René Dupont.

The Asia Journalists Association has recommended Nepalese Federation of Journalists in 2007, Shirin Ebadi in 2009, Anuradha Koirala, chairman of Mighty Nepal in 2011 (CNN Hero of the year in 2010), Akira, the director of Cambodian Landmine Museum as well as Fethullah Gulen (Turkey, Educational activist) in 2012, Abderrahim El Allam (Morocco writer) in 2013, Ashraf Dali (Egyptian poet and journalist) as well as Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Iranian film director) in 2014 and Jane Goodall (Animal ecologist) in 2017.

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