Kyung Hee Sets New Model for Volunteering
By Kang Shin-who
Korea Times Correspondent
VLADIVOSTOK ― The overseas volunteer programs of most Korean universities involve young students doing simple jobs for short periods of time, often during the summer break.
Kyung Hee University, however, has been creating a new paradigm for volunteer activities abroad in accordance with its 60th anniversary this year. Kyung Hee has invited all of its members ― students, professors, medical staff and other employees ― to join a volunteer group called ``Peace Corps,'' in which the university runs comprehensive and intensive volunteer programs as part of a long-term project.
``So far, our overseas volunteer programs had not been comprehensive and continuous. But, we have many specialists and scholars in various fields as well as young students, so we, as a higher education institute, plan to make full use of our capacity,'' said Choi Hee-sub, coordinator for Social Service at the Global Academy for Future Civilizations at the university.
The university has decided to help ``Goryeo Saram,'' ethnic Koreans in the Central Asia countries, to settle in Ussuriysk, a small city, 98 kilometers north of Vladivostok in Russia, over the next 10 years. Kyung Hee will contribute to setting up a village, called ``Rozina'' (hometown in Russian language) for ethnic Koreans and build an education center for children and juveniles. In addition, the university will develop education programs for the center and its professors will continue to research the ecology of the land in the region and cultivate agricultural technology, which fits to the environment. In addition, the university's hospital will care for the health of not only ethnic Koreans but also other Russians in the region.
Diversity of Russian Far East
The Korean Russians ― known as ``Kareisky'' in Russian ― are the offspring of those who moved to Primorskiy Kray in the far-east of Russia from Korea in the era of the Joseon Kingdom. In the late 1930s, more than 170,000 ethnic Koreans in Russia were forced to move to Central Asia, where Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are located now, as the Soviet Union at that time was worried that Koreans might act as spies for Japan.
After the Soviet Union broke down in 1991, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan became independent states, which caused nationalism and ethnic conflicts in those countries, and many ethnic Koreans chose to leave. Some immigrated to Russia and others decided to return to the home town of their fathers or grandfathers in the far-east.
However, many of them had to overcome a lot of hurdles including financial difficulties and troubles over immigration procedures in trying to return to their hometowns and strayed like refugees in the region. In the wake of the hardship, the Northeast Asia Peace Movement (NAPM), a non-government organization in South Korea, started to help them to settle in the region and Kyung Hee joined in the project.
``We know the up-and-down history of Goryeo Saram and you are now joining in writing their story, while helping them immigrate and settle in this region,'' Kim Hee-chan, an archaeology professor told his students who came to the region for the village-making project. A total of 50 students ― 25 from the Seoul campus and the rest from the Global Campus in Suwon ― participated in the project for 15 days from August 2 through 17. They painted and drew pictures on the houses and built a children's center in the Rozina village where some 50 ethnic Koreans in 13 families live. Approximately, 40,000 Goreyo Saram are currently residing in the region, according to the NAPM.
``While students serve people here through this volunteer program, they can learn about the history of ethnic Koreans and realize why they are here to help them under the project,'' Kim told The Korea Times.
``I had opportunities to better understand history of our people and communicate with Goreyo Saram. This is something very rare that we cannot learn from history textbooks at schools,'' said Park Seung-gyun, 25, a junior who is leading the students from the Seoul campus. Another student leader for the Global Campus, Lee Jae-il, 27, said it was valuable experience ahead of his graduation, although many senior students like him are supposed to put their best efforts for landing jobs.
Lee Soon-jin, 73, a resident of the village who moved there in 2007, was unable to express her feeling about the helping hands of the students due to her old age, but said ``good,'' while calmly observing the village, which is being painted with beautiful pictures.
Olga Limary, 23, a Russian who moved to the village last November following her ethnic Korean husband, said she is happy that children of the village now have a place to play thanks to the volunteering students.
^Kyung Hee plans to provide the village with agricultural technology and education programs in partnership with the NAPM. ``We will help homeless ethnic Koreans settle in this new village and five families plan to move to here. If about 30 families settle in this village, we can secure its stabilization,'' said Kim Seung-lyok, NAPM director.
Extending Healing Hands
The university also sent volunteers overseas from all of its medical departments; medicine, Oriental medicine, pharmacology, dentistry and nursing. The medical team, consisting of 32 volunteer members along with 11 volunteer interpreters, spent a week in Ussuriysk and a week in Arterm, both near Vladivostok.
Choi Woo-suk, leader of the medical team, said they average 300 patients a day and many of them have problems with their teeth or are suffering from cholelithiasis, as the water in the country contains high levels of calcium. ``Our hospital has offered medical services to those who need our help in many countries for more than 20 years. But, we plan to continue to serve Goreyo Saram and other Russians in this region every summer for more than five years.'' The hospital also plans to help ethnic Koreans build a hospital in Ussuriysk
A 78-year-old woman, a Goreyo Saram who was treated for arthritis said she really appreciated the medical team and felt the warm heart of her mother country. ``I think Korean medical technology is much better than that of here,'' said a 19-year-old Russian girl who was treated for back pain.
Multiethnic Friendship Festival Unifies Region
Kyung Hee students set up a stage and various event booths for a ``Multiethnic Friendship Festival,'' held on Aug. 15 Liberation Day, and also held taekwondo and dance demonstrations. The ethnic Korean community in the region started hosting the festival from 2007 as an effort to create harmony with other ethnic people and boost friendship of the people in Mihaillopeka County.
Especially, this year, they chose the under-construction village for the festival place to ask help from other people for the successful settlement of the Goreyo Saram in the village. Some 120 ethnic groups reside in the region.
``It was a really rewarding experience for us to help ethnic Koreans who have a sad history, to return to their hometown and mingle with other people through the festival,'' said Jeon Woo-ju, senior student majoring in design.
Natash Stupak, 18, one of the festival participants, said it was good opportunity for her to understand more about culture and traditions of other ethnic people. Kim Lyobov, 27, Korean Russian who is teaching Korean at Ussuriysk Teacher Training Institute, said she is proud that Goreyo Saram hosted this kind of festival for peace in the region.
``This year's festival was an opportunity to show other ethnic people that we have successfully landed and adapted to life here. Just the word `thank you' cannot explain our great gratitude toward Kyung Hee students and staff,'' said Kang Nikolai, 75, representative for Goreyo Saram in the region and general director of the North-East Peace Foundation.