[OUTLOOK]‘Noblesse’ must earn its nameThe volunteer movement has spread like wildfire since the Joongang Ilbo launched an extensive campaign under the slogan “The joy of sharing, the pleasure of giving” in July, 1994. Eleven years later, volunteering is now a way of life for many Koreans. According to a survey by Volunteer 21, 20 percent of Korean adults are involved in volunteer activities today.
This number is far smaller than the 40 to 60 percent in the United States and other developed nations, where volunteer community service has become a part of people’s daily lives. However, it still is an encouraging signal, considering the recent boost in corporate participation and the overall increase.
Especially as the National Assembly has passed the Volunteer Community Service Act ― long-awaited by those involved in volunteer activities as a stepping stone to promote volunteer service more systematically ― the campaign is gaining momentum.
The key provisions of the new act defines the role and function of the 250 volunteer centers around the nation and the Korea Council for Volunteering, which is the central administrative agency. The enforcement regulations of the act have yet to be announced, and we need to make sure that the purpose and spirit of the civilian initiative are not undermined.
At any rate, I think that a historic new chapter has opened for the volunteering movement in Korea thanks to the passing of the Volunteer Community Services Act.
But why do we have to be reminded of our obligation to help those who are less fortunate?
With wealth, power and status come moral responsibilities. If the leading figures of the society, or the so-called “noblesse” class, want to get respect and special treatment, it is only natural that they fulfill their due responsibilities and duties.
Whether they have obtained honor or accumulated wealth, the noblesse class needs to voluntarily assume the role of supporting the stability of society and maintaining the system.
Unless they take the initiative and fulfill their responsibilities to society and community, the social system cannot be healthy.
Let’s take a look at the reality of Korea.
Ironically, at every election and every regime change, politicians make sweet public pledges and promise a better society, but the reality is quite contrary.
Despite the emphasis on equality and distribution, the gap between the rich and the poor has grown wider. The promise for integration and reconciliation has rather caused aggravation, division and discord.
We all need to seriously think about why this is happening.
Countless non-governmental, non-profit civic organizations have sprung up and can have influence, but in so many cases these organizations have turned into a vanguard for political power or have simply established themselves as the main group of biased collective egoism. Will the noblesse class simply sit back and watch this happen?
Just like the self-cleaning cycle of nature, the buds of hope are bound to bloom in a corner of our society no matter how hopeless it may appear.
One of the buds is volunteering work and the practice of helping those who are less fortunate.
The volunteer service is about caring for one’s neighbors, sharing and co-existing with love. It enhances the happiness quotient of our society.
This is a shortcut to improve the quality of community life. If the noblesse class takes the initiative in the movement, they will receive hearty respect from the people, while social friction and discord will be considerably relieved .
The National Volunteer Service Festival, which has been held annually since the volunteer service movement was launched in earnest, is celebrating its 12th anniversary. This year, the festival period has been extended to a month, and moreover, the pledge of 1,000 social leaders to participate in the move at today’s ceremony will make the festival more meaningful.
On October 18, the Volunteer Forum hosts an international volunteer community service seminar participated in by Korean, Chinese and Japanese groups. The more that the noblesse class and the leaders of our society become actively involved in volunteering, the more Korean society will become healthy and warm.
* The writer is the president of the Korean BBB Association and the co-chairman of the Korea Council for Volunteering.
by Lee Je-hoon