Teens find inspiring ways to spend their breaks
According a survey by Germany’s market researcher GFK, which surveyed 22,000 people over the age of 15 in 17 countries, people from these three countries “appear less volunteer-minded,” while 64 percent of Koreans who said they “have volunteered at least once in their life” were in their teens, and 54 percent of Koreans said they “have never volunteered.”
Korean volunteers include high school students, normally pressured to prepare for the national college entrance exam during summer break, who dedicate their vacation to volunteering in and out of Korea for various causes, fundraising for struggling families in Indonesia, visiting children in Mongolia or organizing events at their schools here to promote stronger relations among fellow students.
Korea’s volunteer outliers also organize flash mobs, singing contests and mini bazaars to fundraise for families in Indonesia. They were the members of Youth Voice of Compassion (YVOC), a group of middle and high school students fundraising on behalf of a program of Compassion.
“We heard that many babies die before they turn 1 in developing countries,” said Lee Da-won, a 17-year-old participant of YVOC. “I decided to join the program this summer with my friends to help these babies, who should be given the same right to life as we are.”
YVOC said the students organized the whole program during the summer.
“Some people asked me if I shouldn’t have spent the time studying for the national college entrance exam [College Scholastic Ability Test],” said Lee Yu-bin, also 17. “But I’m learning things through this program that I couldn’t have picked up at school.”
YVOC, first established in 2009, has been joined by 1,000 students since. Students who have signed up for the program gather every month to discuss and plan fundraising events for people in need or to raise awareness about them. Last year, a group of students raised funds to help build a classroom in the Philippines.
“It’s great to meet like-minded people here in the program,” said Yang Yu-jin, a 19-year-old college student who has been participating with YVOC since he was a high school student. “I am now serving as a mentor to the students in YVOC.”
And YVOC is not the only volunteer program available for students over the summer.
Kim Hee-sun, a 17-year-old student at Baekshin High School in Goyang, Gyeonggi, was on a week-long trip to Mongolia from Aug. 1, organized by Good Neighbors.
“The trip this time changed how I think about volunteering,” Kim said. “I didn’t expect much initially. I joined the program because my mother wanted me to go. But once I started spending time with Mongolian kids, I saw that they were thankful for the smallest acts of kindness. I realized this was the first time in my life that I was really giving all I’ve got for something.”
Kim is also sponsoring an 11-year-old child in Vietnam through Good Neighbors.
“I hope to meet the child in person one day,” she said.
Lee Soo-hyeon, an 18-year-old student of Myungduk Foreign Language High School in Gangseo District, western Seoul, said she has been volunteering as a translator for Good Neighbors, translating letters exchanged between Korean sponsors and their sponsored children abroad. Lee translates some 40 letters a week.
“I love the work, because I get to read some really candid and creative expressions of children in the letters they write,” she said. “In one letter, a child wrote, ‘If I could talk to cats, I’d ask them why it is that I love them.’ Such expressions make me smile.”
Lee also runs a student body at her school dedicated to listening to each other’s problems.
“Life at my school can get tough for some students because of competition among the students for academic excellence,” Lee said. “The student group is a gathering of those who want to speak and listen to each other’s struggles.”
She added, “All in all, my involvement in the volunteer programs abroad and in Korea has sparked in me a desire to work in the field of overseas development assistance — it’s all about spending less time on myself and more on others around me.”
Students at Daeil Foreign Language High School in Seongbuk District, central Seoul, also organized a campaign to make sanitary pads for girls in Africa, in connection with a program of World Vision. The campaign is organized by the students, and the entire student body is said to take part.
On Aug. 8, at a youth center in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, students inside and outside Korea were engaged in a project to design and build a model village where they envision people from all cultures could live peacefully together. There were 75 middle and high school students from abroad, including from Vietnam, India and China, and 75 students from Korea.
The three-day camp was organized by Rainbow Youth Center, an organization supporting children of foreign parents who had moved to Korea and young North Korean defectors.
“This camp helped me interact freely with students of Korea for three days,” said a 15-year-old student from China who lives in Korea. “The camp helped us all understand each other across different cultures and backgrounds.”
“It was hard to adjust to being with Koreans 24 hours at first,” said a 14-year-old from Vietnam, who lives in Korea with her Vietnamese parents. “But after spending some time together, I realized that no one was trying to single me out for being a foreigner. I hope to grow up in Korea as a Vietnamese who can connect Korea to the rest of the world.”
There are an estimated 240,000 middle and high school students whose parents are foreigners living in Korea.
“These children will play a very important role in Korean society in the future,” said Goh Eui-soo, director of the Rainbow Youth Center. “We all need to be model citizens and help these children, members of the Korean community now, adjust to life here and create a harmonious society for all.”
BY HONG SANG-JI, KIM JUN-YOUNG [email@example.com]