[Student Essay] Obligatory Dilemma

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[Student Essay] Obligatory Dilemma

Heesung Tae, Grade 11, Branksome Hall Asia  
The word “service”, at first, didn’t mean anything. At least to me. It was a requirement for exemplary school life, some kind of obligation. Then several years later, it was my source of pride. Leading a service club was my accomplishment, something to write on my resume. Then, at some point, it became an enormous ethical dilemma.
What has now become of service? Students receive service hours, celebrities and corporations build their public image through donations, and citizens participate in campaigns to earn gifts. I do not mean to devalue the endeavor of all people who genuinely try to improve the world. How often, though, do we care about whom we’re helping and what they actually need? When you donate money to an organization to help them provide educational materials to kids in a country that you’ve only seen on a globe, do you actually know and care about what their daily lives look like? Do you try to do some research? Do you check if your money is spent right? Do you check the authenticity of the organization you sent your money to? Or do you praise yourself for your own good deed after sending a few thousand won and forget about it?
One aspect of service that is equally essential as ‘the desire to help’ but is often disregarded is ‘responsibility’. Not helping properly is even worse than just not helping. For instance, a student-initiated service co-curricular club, a few years ago, associated with an orphanage to help them every week. However, when the student founder graduated and left the school, there was no one to continue the activity and the club was disbanded. This created great confusion for the orphanage the club was associated with. Since their system relied upon the interaction with the club, they could not carry out their function at all and were left abandoned. This service activity may have been quite effective, perhaps for a couple of years during which the club worked with the organization. What happened afterward, though, shows how the lack of responsibility in actions of service can deteriorate the circumstances of the target. This applies to all organizations that intend to work closely with the targets of their service. Service must be sustainable and should focus on helping the targets become independent rather than making them dependent on the service they’re provided. This is the targets’ ‘authentic need’, which many people seem to pay little attention to when they’re offering service.
The reason why people tend to focus on wrong things lies in their wrong motivations. The proper and ideal service should be carried out through the following steps:
1. You come across an issue.
2. You feel the need to solve—at least mitigate—the problem.
3. You seek ways to do so, by interacting and finding out more about the target group/system and investigating what is most needed for them.
4. You decide on the action you want to take.
5. You carry out the action, through collaboration and effective decisions.
6. You sustain the action until your initial goal is achieved.  
However, at least according to what I’ve observed, people tend to follow these steps instead:
1. You feel the need to engage in some kind of service.
2. You look for opportunities to fulfill your ethical obligation and find them.
3. You sacrifice some of your time and money to take the opportunity.
4.Use the proof that you’ve participated in service for your own benefit.
Shamefully, I also took the same step when I first co-founded a service club. My friend and I were looking for a way to launch a service club and we found one. I didn’t feel the shame then. It was only a few months later when I realized there was something wrong with the process. I realized—that even though our club intended to help children with tumors—I had no idea how old those children are, what they really want, how our products are helping them, or what we could further do to help them properly. Like an epiphany, all of a sudden, everything became so undeniable: the ubiquitousness of wrong motivations, the corruptness of some service organizations, and our blindness towards all those issues. From then I was trapped in this never-ending dilemma on service. Am I supposed to continue my works of service even if they seem meaningless? How am I supposed to invite more people to participate in the acts of service while forcing them to be responsible for their actions? What is the point of donating if I get gifts as a reward for donation? What made me suffer the most was the thought that, albeit agonizing, this dilemma is something we should always have in mind as global citizens and the fact that yet not many people have this understanding.
Our school has a criterion for service activities, which defines service as: “collaborative and reciprocal engagement with the community in response to an authentic need.” The parts that are often forgotten here are “reciprocal” and “authentic need”. True acts of service should not be one-way communication. We should not simply assume what other people need. Meeting the authentic need is much more challenging than meeting a superficial need, and a painful ethical dilemma of service is fundamental in this whole process. This pain is probably why many of us decide to stop thinking about it. However, this dilemma is your obligation as a privileged global citizen; service without dilemma cannot exist.
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