Posted tagged ‘Volunteering’

Korea Launches Own Version of “Peace Corps”

May 8, 2009

It wasn’t so long ago that Korea was a host country to U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. In fact, during my time living in Korea, I ran into several individuals who remember their encounters with Peace Corps volunteers including the volunteer’s name, age at the time they were in Korea and hometown. It was really quite touching to hear former students (some of them now government officials) recalling their Peace Corps teachers back when the program was in operation from 1966 to 1981.

But times have changed now.

Over the past few decades, Korea has gone from being a country with a GDP per capita comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia to “a member of the trillion dollar club of world economies.” [CIA World Factbook]

It is now a high-tech, developed nation with a democratically elected government. It is also a country with it’s own version of the U.S. Peace Corps.

The government launched a group of volunteers Thursday to strengthen its goodwill activities in underdeveloped or developing countries around the world in an effort to become a more responsible member of the international community.The group, named World Friends Korea, is the country’s version of the Peace Corps in the United States, launched in 1961 to promote peace and friendship worldwide, officials here said.

About 2,000 volunteers belong to the Korean body, but the membership will grow to over 3,000 by the end of the year, according to a spokesman from the Presidential Council on Nation Branding. Currently, the U.S. is the only country that sends more than 3,000 volunteers abroad annually. [Korea Times]

While I am a little wary of the “branding” efforts the government hopes will result from this program (Korea Times: “Chairman Euh Yoon-dae of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding hoped such efforts will help Korea become a respected and beloved nation”), I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for Koreans to give and assist people in need througout the world and to exchange cultural understanding. This is incredibly significant considering where Korea was just decades ago.

So my contragulations goes out to Korea for developing the country’s own version of Peace Corps. And the best of luck to the nation’s new World Friends Korea volunteers.

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Peace Corps Days: Reminiscing

April 17, 2009

Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan volunteers - 2001.

Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan memories.

Ah, life as a Peace Corps volunteer. Sure, it’s romantic – going out to save the the world by living and volunteering in a developing country, learning a new language, immersing oneself in a different culture and seeing parts of the globe one never thought they’d see.

But as I was looking through various Peace Corps Volunteer blogs on the Peace Corps Journals site, I was reminded of the other side of the adventure: The challenges of learning a new language, surviving the intense pre-service training, competition among other volunteers in terms of who accomplished what and feelings of frustration as a result, being a woman in a culture where gender equality is still developing, battling (sometimes constant) illness and other struggles – enough to write a book on depending on your mood. As a volunteer, these are things you are prepared for in the back of your enthusiastic little mind before you venture off into the field, but they are nevertheless the very same things you are unprepared for when they become a reality.

Still, it’s all part of the journey, right? And at least you get bragging rights. How many people can say, “I had giardia, intestinal worms and a bacterial infection all at the same time?” [See last link.] No kidding, such conversations were normal among those in my group during our time in Kyrgyzstan, so much that it became a joke despite the potential severity of the situation.

But despite the challenges and moments of frustration, I can recall some pretty awesome times as well. Like the moment you realize your language skills are starting to come together, or when you realize you are actually accomplishing a lot at your site. Also, all the Kyrgyz friends I made, the foods I ate (yes, I ate a sheep’s eyeball!), the traditional weddings, birthday parties, festivals and outings I attended and workshops I participated in or led.

I’m especially reminded of all this as I read about Rwanda’s first group of Peace Corps volunteers since 1994, and I know they are going to come back from their service completely different people – most likely for the better. (Also, I’m a bit jealous – I would have loved to have served in Rwanda as it’s a place I’ve read a lot about.) Anyway, as I read about this newly sworn-in group, I am reminded of my swearing-in day in Kyrgyzstan, the day that recognized the completion of our group’s pre-service training with the next step of being dispatched to our permanent sites. Some, like myself, were going to be the only Peace Corps volunteer/American for miles around. I remember the excitement, anxiety, camaraderie and sudden loneliness I felt all at the same time. And as I looked through various blogs on the Peace Corps Journals site, I was also reminded of the friends I made, the crazy times we shared, the adventures we experienced and just a lot of laughter.

Although my Peace Corps experience did not end on a happy note (we were evacuated from the area in light of the 9/11 events which brought our neighbor Afghanistan into the picture), the experience was an unforgetful one for me. I started off thinking that I was going to give myself to the world, but in the end, it was the the world that actually gave itself to me. And it’s still giving.

Traveling the World to Help Children in Need

April 6, 2009

Cleft Lip Before (Chongqing), originally uploaded by interplast.

Cleft lip and palate is a birth defect caused when the tissues of the mouth or lips fail to form properly during fetal development. While doctors don’t know what causes this defect, they suspect it “may be a combination of genetic (inherited) and environmental factors (such as certain drugs, illnesses, and the use of alcohol or tobacco while a woman is pregnant).”

According to KidsHealth.org:

Kids with a cleft lip or palate tend to be more susceptible to middle ear fluid collections, hearing loss, and speech defects. Dental problems — such as missing, extra, malformed, or displaced teeth, and cavities — also are common in kids born with cleft palate.

For unknown reasons, the condition is most often seen in children of Asian, Latino, or Native American descent.

Luckily, this is a curable disease, and thanks to medical exchanges involving teams of volunteer physicians who travel the world donating their skills to children in need of treatment, kids from around the globe are receiving the care they need.

One such medical exchange group is detailing their work on the Love Without Boundaries Blog where they are now in China preparing to carryout numerous surgeries for the patients at Fudan University.

You can read about their first day in country here.

H/T to SharonGilor (Twitter ID: expatguide) of the Expats Moving and Relocation Guide.

Putting Haiti Back on the Radar Through Volunteerism and International Awareness

March 11, 2009

Haiti is one of those countries that tends to fall off the international radar – unless something bad happens, such as a hurricane, civil unrest or political corruption. Otherwise, as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, the country seems to symbolize what happens when a nation undergoes donor fatigue. Over the years, the world has continuously poured money into the country only to see little progress being made…and so we forget that Haiti even exists.

As one who has spent time in Haiti in the past, I have noticed that while foreign aid organizations or government assistance quietly come and go, it is volunteerism at the grassroots level that keeps the country afloat. I’m talking about volunteer work groups, mostly coming from the U.S., who pair up with local organizations or individuals to pitch in where they can.

I haven’t been to Haiti since 2000, but from my recollection, these volunteers consist of church groups, college work teams (I remember crossing paths with some students from Chatham College) and visiting physicians who bring with them their own team of experts. (The Peace Corps also operates in Haiti.) (more…)

Global Volunteer Options for the Working (and Non-working) Professional and Individuals Via the Internet

February 27, 2009

As unemployment rates rise in the United States, the jobless find comfort and continue to keep their resumes active by participating in various volunteer activities. A while ago we shared with you ideas for the college student looking for an “alternative spring break” of overseas volunteering. Today, we’re going to focus on small efforts both the employed and unemployed professional/individual can partake in – and our suggestions even have an international twist.

Nabuur.com is an online volunteering platform that links Neighbors (online volunteers) with Villages (local communities) in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Connected through Nabuur.com, Neighbors and local communities learn about each other, share ideas and find solutions to local issues. Nabuur.com is a fantastic example of how technology and new media are even playing a role in volunteerism today. Watch this video for a thorough introduction to how the program works:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Operating under the same spirit as Nabuur.com is the United Nations Volunteers site which connects volunteers with organizations working for sustainable human development. Volunteers donate their skills and team up with organizations in need of those specific skills to work toward a common goal all via the internet.

For those looking for resources to get non-profit or grassroots ideas off the ground, Social Actions offers tools via their online database of more than 20,000 actions aimed to help people share opportunities to help make a difference. The great thing about Social Actions is that it is flexible enough to work both at a community and international level.

Another social action network is Change.org which helps people learn about various causes, refers them to non-profits and other related organizations and ultimately makes the necessary connections to help people get involved.

What we’ve listed today are just a few of the many options available to anyone with the time, passion and ideas necessary for volunteering internationally (or within the community) and the great thing is, each one of these opportunities begins from your computer.

For the gainfully employed or those still searching for work, volunteerism is a great way to use your skills to help others help themselves, keep your resume active and hopefully bring yourself a sense of personal satisfaction.

[“The Advanced Ape” would like to thank the Rising Voices Google Group for sharing these fantastic ideas.]

Spring Break and Volunteerism – Where to Go and What to Do

February 20, 2009

It may only be February, but now is the time when college students begin planning for the annual migration off campus to exotic places – otherwise known as spring break. While margaritas, parties, blue seas and the chance for innocent flirting have not disappeared, another aspect of the tradition has emerged and is growing – volunteerism – or the “alternative spring break.”

It’s been more than three years since Katrina, but spring break volunteering is growing exponentially, according to Andrea Hutchinson, of Adventures in Travel Expo.

“We’re further away from Katrina, but President Obama was just elected,” said Steven Roy Goodman, educational consultant. “There has been a real resurgence of a spirit of service.”

Whatever one’s political affiliation, spring break service trips are an excellent way to travel and make a difference.

So where should the adventurous spring break volunteer go and what should they do during their time off from studying? What should they know before they embark? Here are some helpful links to answer all those questions and more: (more…)