There has been some buzz around the blogs lately about how Mannam International group is associated with a cult. I think for sure when you look at these articles you can see for yourself that this group is kind of sketchy in that they seem to really want to recruit foreigners and things do sound cult like. However, I attended a Mannam Volunteer event a while back and therefore have something to say. I went to their event where they painted the walls for a school for disabled children and I had a good time. I didn't know they were associated with these groups or this controversy at the time. However, I kept a skeptical distance the whole time.
Actually, I was approached by Mannam way earlier in the year. I was walking to my local subway station when someone stopped me in the street. "Excuse me, where are you from?" Every time this happens to me I feel like going back home and asking a random Asian person on the street (hoping they are Korean) and asking them the same question. See if you like it! So I engaged with this person and they ended up giving me a small card with Mannam events on it and the promise of free Korean classes. Since I have been in Korea for some time I know there is nothing as "free Korean classes." It's usually a trap of some sort. So I stuffed it in my pocket and moved on.
Yet, when that MBC video came out and foreigners were being painted yet again as a*holes and such I decided I should give back positively to the community. Also I had met someone earlier at a different group event who told me about Mannam. Nothing shouted "religious frantic" to me and I even asked this person if the group was associated with any religion, and she said no.
During the wall-painting event I didn't really feel like I was being used for publicity. Actually I was one of the few white-gals attending and the folks with the cameras never once asked for my photo-op or interview. Instead they seemed to focus on other members who gladly spilled away how happy they were to be there.
I honestly thought I was doing some good and now feel a bit of relief I didn't stay for their group photo at the end. I also have to say that the group, although friendly, was kind of split up. There were a large amount of Chinese students there who huddled together and didn't talk much with other folks. Did it feel like a cult the whole time? No, not really. But this was just a one time experience and I mostly focused on painting the wall and not really staying around after to talk with members.
So I think Scroozle and other folks are on to something here and I bet it is all somewhat true. So my advice is to maybe get involved but keep a safe distance. Or perhaps get involved just to spy on them! ;p
Whatever the truth is you have to be careful when any stranger approaches you asking to "join" their group. Seriously, would you just hop along if that happened to you in your home country?