[VIEWPOINT]The year for volunteer service

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[VIEWPOINT]The year for volunteer service

The Association of Jeonju City Volunteer Service, which consisted of 119 groups, last year proclaimed 2004 as the year for volunteer service and expressed its ambitious aspiration to make Jeonju the best city for exemplary volunteer works in Korea.
Jeonju’s rate of participation in volunteer service among adults over 20 is about 17 percent and the association plans to raise the rate to over 30 percent. It also aspires to catch up with the rate in the United States, 54 percent, and that of England, 34 percent. The civic group’s plan is based on the absolute support of the Jeonju municipal government.
The municipal government made plans for the first time in Korea to establish an education center for volunteers to provide them with professional training and management.
The city allocated 2.5 billion won ($2.2 million) for the project in the budget and sought 1 billion won of the total from the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs.
The city plans to host workshops in Jeonju in the first half of this year for as many as 200 volunteer service centers nationwide. It also intends to become a central city of volunteer service by hosting a national volunteer service fair in its area.
At present, most local and municipal governments have volunteer service centers, and each government has specific volunteer services of its own, such as the “Share Net Movement” in Daegu, and “Meal Community” in Wonju. In this context, the efforts of Jeonju city are nothing new. But the city’s movement is sure to make a great contribution to the spread of volunteer service across the nation in that the civic groups are preparing new programs with greater enthusiasm than ever and that the government is concentrating its administrative effort to support them.
Unlike paid labor in industrial society, volunteer service is unpaid labor citizens voluntarily offer with pleasure. In this sense, volunteer service is an indispensable social capital required for building a community culture in a changing society.
Our country’s volunteer service campaign has a long way to go. In particular, much is required to improve students’ volunteer activities.
According to a sample survey of 1,000 citizens conducted in 2001 by Jeonju city to see the current status of volunteer service, the participation rate of elementary, middle and high school students was 28.6 percent and that of college students was 27.8 percent.
That is, the participation rate of students exceeded half of the total volunteer service. Students’ participation in volunteer service is very desirable in that it leads to fostering sound citizens in the future.
But the volunteer service of many middle and high school students tends to be superficial to get a better grade in the area of volunteer service, and that of college students also is simply to help in public events such as festivals or sports events.
There are mistaken practices and awareness in our society that people expect some monetary reward for volunteer service as in part-time work. This should be corrected as soon as possible. When the government supports a volunteer service campaign, special caution should also be taken. Such government-led volunteer service may carry the risk of undermining the spontaneity of civic groups.
In this regard, the Jeonju municipal government seems to understand the public-private partnership relatively well.
Unlike other local and municipal governments which directly operate volunteer service centers, Jeonju city arranged for civic groups to jointly operate the centers under the Association of Jeonju City Volunteer Service. Even when the education center for volunteers is established, the association will continue to be in charge of education and training.
The key to advanced volunteer service is citizens’ participation. Fortunately, in the case of Jeonju city, the participation of citizens and civic groups has increased, whereas the participation rate of students has remained almost the same.
The Association of Jeonju City Volunteer Service said that it would encourage experts in various fields, including medicine, law, music and dance, to participate in volunteer service on a large scale.
In order for volunteer service to help build a community culture and take root as social capital, it is essential for citizens to take part in mutual support activities for the needy people in neglected areas and take the lead in achieving social integration.
I hope the public-private partnership model of the municipal government of Jeonju will succeed and spread to other local and municipal governments.

* The writer is a professor at Wonkwang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kim Do-jong
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