[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]Some volunteer programs are ‘worthless’Summers here now include these typical scenes: district offices crowded with young people standing in line to apply for passports and large crowds at airports, most of them students going abroad to study or travel during summer vacation. But increasingly, groups of college students are going abroad to do volunteer work with domestic civic groups.
Volunteer activities have until recently been relatively small-scale, but they are steadily on the rise as more people are taking an interest in going abroad to help others in need. It is becoming a popular trend for young Koreans to join a volunteer group and fly to another country during their summer vacations.
Volunteer work is open to almost any interested student; many think it is a great chance to help and experience something new. So the number of programs that non-governmental organizations are creating to sign up students has grown.
There are problems, however, with the content of programs that these groups provide.
As they grow larger, they seem to be more interested in creating programs that are showy but actually worthless.
A lot of the civic groups tend to consider students as mere bait to lure sponsors from big companies. They use the number of students participating in their volunteer programs to attract money from sponsors.
I found this out when my friends and I applied to a similar program. Soon after the registration period was over, the civic group received a sponsorship from a big company. In any case, we quickly realized there was not much we could do.
We do not have skills for medical support; we don’t even know how to cook. Knowing well that we cannot give substantial help, we ended up spending our days idling around in pretty uniforms.
One of the boring programs was organized by Kopion, or the Korean Pioneers in Overseas NGOs, one of the biggest groups that dispatch volunteers to 27 countries twice a year. So far, they have sent more than 500 young Korean volunteers abroad.
The students’ mission was to gain an understanding of differences by cultural exchanges in another country. I’m sure some of the students had skills in some kind of professional field.
But everyone was ordered to talk about Korean traditional clothes, perform taekwondo and sing traditional folk songs to people who might not even care about them.
In this situation, I think younger students can get confused about the meaning of aid and even the purpose of volunteering.
Non-governmental organizations are getting a positive image for their volunteer programs in other countries.
But some programs may be only beneficial to the organizations. They should instead encourage young volunteers to develop independence and take part in real programs that help people to realize their purpose for volunteering in the first place.
* The writer is a former reporter for The Argus, the English newspaper of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
by Yeo Hee-soo