[Viewpoint]Korea has to learn volunteer management

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[Viewpoint]Korea has to learn volunteer management

Two males out of the 23 Koreans abducted by the Taliban in Afghanistan have been killed. On top of being Christians, they are extraordinarily brave, as proven by their records of more than 10 years of volunteering.
It is important to note that they went to Afghanistan not to do missionary work, but to care for people in need, despite the warnings about all the dangers of war and hardships. Because of such volunteers, hope and courage outlives the wilderness of the bloody war and pain in Afghanistan.
In fact, both the aid organization and the church to which the kidnapped volunteers belong are known to be socially and religiously liberal, different and distant from those eager to increase their numbers of missionaries and expand religious influence. Criticizing the current tragedy as only by overambitious Christian missionary work is not fully justified, even though the violations of the government’s policies and guidelines must still be assessed.
During the past decade, a great wave of volunteering has swept through all parts of Korea due to the national and institutional efforts to promote service.
The drive for volunteers got a boost during the 2002 World Cup and International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) World Conference in Seoul in the same year, world events that greatly widened the level of participation by the general public. That momentum has continued through today.
A series of surveys conducted at three-year intervals by Volunteer21 shows that organized volunteering among Korean adults has risen from 14 percent in 1999 to 16.3 percent in 2002 and 20.5 percent in 2005.
During those periods, the number of church-related volunteers were more than double the non-church volunteers, according to the survey.
However, this success in promoting and multiplying volunteerism was not followed up with safety measures. Policies on volunteer management and protection have lagged behind.
This lag in volunteer planning and management is obviously a major factor behind the current hostage crisis.
Thinking that volunteer planning and management can be done by anyone is grounded in ignorance or neglect of the importance of volunteer management.
It reveals a narrow and shallow understanding of volunteering, which is not just “helping others with goodwill” and ignoring the questions of why, what, where, for whom, how and when to volunteer.
Government policies focused on budgeting for volunteering are partly responsible for such misunderstandings. Volunteering has been taken to be optional and therefore easy to cut funds in the national budget for it.
No more volunteering as such should be continued.
Volunteers out for the imperial expansion of religious missions; media corporations engaged in marketing ― volunteering for better profits and to improve their images; broker organizations profiting from foreign volunteer recruitment; self-promoting “volunteer experts” without real expertise; government ministries (i.e. the Ministry of Education and the government youth commission) supporting and shipping off college students and teenagers for foreign volunteering without reflection on any questions or concerns about their methods or effects; Korea International Cooperation Agency placing volunteers in organizations without appropriate supervision; corporations overheated by competition for foreign volunteers, and so-called expert groups that have not done anything about observable fault lines in national volunteer policy ― all these actors in promoting volunteerism should be constructively criticized, reoriented and redirected.
Stakeholders and people in charge of misconceived and misdirected volunteer practices should apologize for the current tragedy, and bear accountability. They should also work to provide reliable and practicable measures to ensure the goodwill of foreign volunteering is fully realized.
An exemplary case for benchmarking can be found in Australia, where volunteer management standards have been set and implemented for the best benefits from volunteering and the best protection of volunteers.
I don’t mean to blur the emergency of the hostage crisis with a new issue about volunteering.
But we need to reorient our society to become more victim-preventive and volunteer-friendly. For instance, one may point out the severe limitations of the understanding that the Taliban was enraged by the Christian missionaries. I join others in urging the world to take action and measures to rescue the volunteer hostages.
At the same time, let’s ensure a local policy that values and protects volunteers, so that no more become victimized due to their political or social ideology.
Jane Goodall once said that the future of human life is hopeful because of volunteers. Didn’t all the saints say the value of human life lies in helping others?
The United Nations also recommended, on declaring 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers, that every member state promote volunteering because world peace, along with socio-economic development, greatly relies on volunteering.
Civicus, IAVE, Uited Nations Volunteers and other transnational volunteer organizations have long insisted on recognizing the right of volunteers to work safely anywhere in the world and encouraging institutions to ensure a safe environment for volunteers.
The UN and related global entities should act to eradicate attempts to bait volunteers for any terrorist or political purpose, but rather take powerful countermeasures to deter such practices.
The media needs to stop being blinded by competition and exploitation by the Taliban, be considerate to the kidnapped victims and their families, and be accountable advocates for the voluntary disciples of peace and care.
I hope the world leaders of volunteering speak out to free the volunteer hostages in Afghanistan. Ask the Taliban to stop such inhumane practices as kidnapping volunteers for political ransom and apologize for what they have done. The intentions of the Taliban will never be realized as long as volunteers are taken as ransom, and more than 600 million world volunteers will never yield to this kind of terrorism.

The writer is secretary general of the Korea Council of Volunteering.

By Lee Kang-hyun

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