[MINORITY VOICE]Helping Hands Deserve a Helping Hand

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[MINORITY VOICE]Helping Hands Deserve a Helping Hand

I would like to offer my respect to those who work in non-governmental organizations for the benefit of society. I never realized how hard it is to do such a job until I, then a businessman, took the plunge into social work - in my case to work against youth violence, which killed my 16-year-old son six years ago. Most people begin social work to put their religious convictions into practice, to continue work begun by their parents, or simply to work in the area they were trained for.

When friends and associates ask me what difficulties I face doing this job, I always give this answer. "First, it makes me miss my son all the more and I feel sorry for my own family. Second, it's a frustrating job, because I hear people always telling me they are sorry." Sorry for not being able to give financial support, they mean, which makes me feel uncomfortable. Meeting people should be comfortable. Making them feel bad is an excruciating thing to do.

People think the Foundation for Preventing Youth Violation must get sufficient government subsidies and financial assistance from individuals and organizations. They get that impression from my frequent media appearances, and frequent visits to my office by high-ranking government officials, politicians and lawmakers. "We come to show our respect on behalf of all Koreans. How can you overcome such a painful experience and take upon yourself what should be a government job," they say, promising to provide support. I always expect that to be followed by a pledge, but to no avail.

I thought naively that if friends and former colleagues of mine, and parents with school-aged children, chipped in a little money every month, the foundation would have no difficulties achieving its goals. That was a mistake. In reality, everybody is too busy to be able to care about non-governmental organizations.

Organizations with political clout have easy access to government subsidies that civic groups like the Foundation for Preventing Youth Violation cannot even dream about. Sometimes we apply to undertake government-funded projects, and government officials treat us as if they were doing us a great favor. It then turns out that we cannot even afford to carry out the projects because we have to cover some of the expenses. Non-governmental organizations must stand on their own feet, and the key question in developing countries is how they will do this.

We have tried everything to keep our operation going - charging fees for consultations and our newspaper and launching fund-raising campaigns. But none has worked. Non-government organizations in many foreign countries do not encounter these difficulties obtaining private-sector financial support or state subsidies. It is an entirely different story in Korea. When I find a social worker doing the job without complaints, I regard them either a saint or a crook - in Korea in the past, social work often served as a cover for dishonest dealings.

Considering the above, those sincerely committed to social or civic movements in Korea deserve great respect. Those who keep on doing the job through the difficulties are great assets to us all. But for them to do this essential work, they desperately need care, participation and contributions from citizens. The government should recognize that receipts for donations to worthy causes deserve tax breaks more than bar receipts. As in advanced nations, it should also refund postal fees that civic groups pay. After all, they are doing what the government should be doing.

The Foundation for Preventing Youth Violation has done a lot of work over the last six years and is a precious gem. It is too cruel to leave such a group unaided.


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The writer is president of the Foundation for Preventing Youth Violence.


by Kim Jong-ki

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