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Korea Marks 20 Years of O’seas Volunteering

Posted June. 09, 2009 07:18,   


“Ziapa dia (‘Who is he?’ in Indonesian)?”

“Ini temanzaya (My friend).”

The Korea International Cooperation Agency’s training center for volunteers in southern Seoul looked like a small global village yesterday.

The center simultaneously provided several courses teaching as many as 10 languages such as Mongolian, Indonesian and Russian to 92 volunteers of World Friends Korea, who will go to work abroad in the middle of next month.

The four-week training begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. daily. Most of the volunteers, however, say they feel proud instead of fatigue.

○ Korea’s new volunteer program

World Friends Korea is the new name of Korea’s volunteer program, which was formed through the consolidation of such programs run by the agency, the Public Administration and Security Ministry, and the Education, Science and Technology Ministry.

The change was made to promote overseas volunteering and improve Korea’s international image.

This year is the 20th anniversary of Korea’s first dispatch of volunteers via the Korea National Commission for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Back in 1990, the nation sent 44 volunteers to four Asian nations including Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Last year, 4,131 Korean volunteers went to 57 nations. Among several governmental agencies dispatching volunteers overseas, the cooperation agency has sent 5,807 over the past two decades.

The volunteers have done more than simply teaching Korean, taekwondo and computer skills. They have also presented Korea as a more globalized nation by transferring skills to help establish rice processing facilities and polish rice, and help underdeveloped nations expand their computer network.

Choi Baek-gyeong, head of the training center, said, “We’ve recently provided cutting-edge printers for schools in Laos, which have difficulty securing textbooks for students. As a token of thanks, Laos has put the Korean flag ‘Taegeukgi’ besides its national flag on the back cover of middle and high school textbooks.”

○ A variety of volunteers

Koreans ranging in age from 20 to 60 or older have volunteered to help other nations.

Volunteers Lee Gyeong-ran and Kim Tae-hun are mother and son. After graduating from university, Kim taught computer skills in Vietnam between 2002 and 2004.

Watching her son teach computer skills, Lee also volunteered and trained kindergarten teachers in Vietnam in art education from 2006 to 2008.

Shin Hye-ran is about to begin her second overseas stint next month after teaching Korean at Vietnam National University in Hanoi in 2000. She will teach Korean again, this time in Indonesia.

“My friends have urged me to get married instead of volunteering,” Shin said. “But I applied for this program again since I believe I’ll become a better Korean teacher.”

Volunteering in a foreign country has its share of difficulties, but volunteers of World Friends Korea say they are proud of themselves.

Park Geum-ok, who taught Korean in Sri Lanka between 2004 and 2006 and landed a job at the cooperation agency in 2007, said, “Sometimes I felt tired but I thought, ‘I represent Korea,’ and regained energy.”