President Lee Myung-bak, fourth from left, makes a fist with volunteers during a ceremony at Cheong Wa Dae, Thursday, to inaugurate World Friends Korea, the country’s version of the Peace Corps in the United States, launched in 1961 to promote peace and friendship worldwide. At center is first lady Kim Yoon-ok. / Korea Times
By Na Jeong-ju
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.
``Today is a remarkable day for Korea's peace missions abroad. You are seeds of hope and friendship,'' President Lee Myung-bak said during the inauguration ceremony at Cheong Wa Dae. ``There are many countries out there that need your services. Your contribution will help improve Korea's global reputation. You are civilians, but should act like diplomats.''
Chairman Euh Yoon-dae of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding hoped such efforts will help Korea become a respected and beloved nation.
In a congratulatory message, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, also urged Korea to send more volunteers around the globe and increase its role on the global stage.
The volunteers will work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations and businessmen in various areas, including education, the environment, agriculture and information technology. They will also play an important role in promoting Korea's culture and food around the world, officials said.
``You can call the World Friends Korea the unified brand of the country's overseas volunteer activities,'' Euh recently told The Korea Times. ``So far, government agencies have had their own volunteer programs in foreign countries, but from now on they will work together under a shared goal. My council will help coordinate their activities.''
The group will include some 300 volunteers who belong to the Korea International Cooperation Agency under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
In addition to the government-run volunteer programs, those run by religious and civic groups will also get full support from the administration, officials said.
The expansion of overseas volunteering is one of the 10 goals the presidential branding council adopted to upgrade the nation's global image. The council was created on instructions from President Lee.
Policymakers here have complained that Korea, associated with the negative image of North Korea and corruption scandals involving politicians and businessmen, doesn't get its due treatment from overseas buyers as the world's 13th largest economy.
The council's other projects include promoting taekwondo and Korean food and language; strengthening global marketing for leading small firms; raising economic contributions to underdeveloped countries; introducing foreigner-friendly policies; and establishing database and communication channels for seven million Koreans living abroad.