Korea’s success gives managers food for thought
Albania’s Gentjana Belilaj was a long way from home, but as she mixed sugar with rice bran to turn sawdust into chicken feed at a Korean farm in Gangwon last week, her thoughts remained rooted in her community.
Belilaj, an Area Development Program manager for World Vision, said she hoped the experience of spending one month in Korea learning about things like organic farming would enable her to go home and transform the fortunes of her ailing town.
“This experience was very inspirational,” she said. “Working with children and the local community has been my job, but this experience has helped me to see my work in another light - not only as a job, but as the reason for my existence.”
She was one of 12 manager-level employees at the Christian relief agency invited to Korea from Aug. 1-26 to study how Korea has boosted its economy and international standing in recent decades with its gung-ho spirit, community-minded culture and innovative ways of strategizing.
The candidates on the international partnership program came from as far afield as Ethiopia, India, Mongolia and the Republic of Congo, but they all had a common goal: to take back the seeds of what they learned and sow them on foreign shores.
Belilaj said she comes from a city where college educations and job opportunities are so scarce that many people drop out of the system early and immigrate to more prosperous European nations in a bid to survive economically.
She thought her experience of breeding micro-organisms for affordable farming at the Canaan Farmer’s School in Wonju, nestled among the verdant mountains of Gangwon, and the lessons in community development strategy had armed her with the tools to go home and try to create more options for young people there.
And that was precisely the point, said project organizers.
“Food for livestock is very expensive in developing countries. If that issue is solved, the farmers should be able to sustain themselves better,” said Professor Lee Ho-yong from Sangji University, who was among the instructors for the farming course.
“They have vast tracts of land that are either not being used, or are not being used practically,” said Kim Hyo-jung from Korea World Vision. “What we are seeing now is the first step to building better communities for them.”
The temporary students spent the first week of their training program at the headquarters of Korea World Vision, which funded the project. This entailed a daily diet of lectures on topics such as international development and marketing strategy, before they were able to get their hands dirty in Wonju.
At the Canaan school, lectures on organic farming and corruption were mixed with mornings spent in the fields planting bags underground to nurture useful micro-organisms, among other practical lessons in how to apply what they had learned.
“The aim was to equip community development workers with skills and knowledge for organic agriculture, project management and a pioneering mindset to achieve eradication of poverty and sustainable development,” the Canaan Global Leadership Center said.
The participants were also taught about Korean success stories such as former president Park Chung Hee’s New Community Movement, also known as the Saemaeul Movement, launched in 1970 to modernize the nation’s rural economy.
For George Sarkar of Bangladesh, however, this paled in significance to the case study of Yongam Ri, formerly one of Korea’s poorest regions. Canaan education galvanized the community of peasant farmers and transformed the area into one of Korea’s most prosperous, where residents now earn an annual average income of $92,000.
People from developing countries only have abstract ideas about how to solve the problems affecting their own countries, such as famine or corruption,” said Lee.
“Canaan is giving these people the courage to embark on the journey of changing their communities, using case studies that have a proven track record of success.”
Not that such hometown heroics come easy - the 12 makeshift farmers in Wonju had to rise at 5 a.m. and digest a wealth of information each day while battling heavy rains and sweltering heat as they prepare to take these pioneering techniques back with them.
Many participants - often speaking in proselytizing tones - said they were inspired by Korea’s story, or the history of its development and prosperity in such a condensed time frame.
“We should learn from Korea’s prosperity, liberalism and cooperative nature,” said Sarkar. “I will share the teachings I have received with my colleagues and the community.”
“My instincts and the spirit of my faith have changed,” said Lamech Chimphero from Malawi. “We pioneers must change our communities.”
World Vision has a presence in 97 countries. Members either fall into the category of supporting officers (providing help) or those in need. The Korean office invites members from developing countries each year, but this was it first program with the Canaan Global Leadership Center.
By Lee Hah-yun Contributing writer [email@example.com]