Korea became the world’s eighth-largest trader last year, moving up a notch from a year earlier. An interim report from the World Trade Organization, cited by the government Monday, showed the country’s trade volume amounted to about $1.07 trillion in 2012, surpassing Italy for the first time.
Koreans may well be proud of this accomplishment, though they have been struggling to go through the prolonged global economic downturn. There is another ― probably more valuable ― achievement that they can take more pride in but appear less aware of: Korea has the world’s third-largest number of volunteer workers dispatched abroad.
A group of 10 Korean adults left here Tuesday for overseas volunteering, bringing the number of volunteers sent by the Korea International Cooperation Agency to more than 10,000. In 1990, the state-funded agency, which is tasked with implementing Korea’s grant aid programs for developing countries, first sent 44 volunteer workers to four Asian nations ― Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Since then, it has dispatched 10,009 volunteers to 65 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
According to KOICA officials, the cumulative number is only behind those for the U.S. and Japan, which have sent about 210,000 and 44,300 volunteers overseas since the early 1960s, respectively. Currently, 1,612 Korean volunteers work in less-developed parts of the world, compared with 8,073 and 2,475 workers each from the U.S. and Japan.
It is encouraging that the number of Koreans going abroad for volunteer work has been steadily increasing, with the proportions of middle-aged people and women growing in recent years. This trend matches Korea’s fulfillment as the only country that has been transformed from an aid recipient to a donor since the end of World War II in 1945. They should be given much of the credit for the nation’s increasing influence in the field of international development cooperation.
A review released by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee in January noted that Korea was perceived by many developing countries as a source of development knowledge and ideas based on its actual experiences. Certainly, its postwar economic ascent can give more inspiration than any other case to people struggling to lift themselves out of poverty.
Volunteer workers have been at the forefront of the valuable mission of sharing what Korea has achieved with less-developed nations trying to bring in a bright future for their peoples. Compassion and consideration shown by them toward residents may lead to building a strong emotional bond, helping form a true partnership in moving toward co-prosperity.
It is also anticipated that volunteers play a bridging role between Korea and the countries they have been assigned to after returning home from their two-year work that can be extended by one year. They are well positioned to help the nation with a growing population of expatriates, including immigrant wives and laborers, make a smooth transition into a harmonious multicultural society and enhance social integration.
Their experiences may also put them at an advantage to get a job or start their own business abroad.
The government is urged to give more consideration to providing volunteer workers, who have devoted some of the most precious period in their lives to helping less-privileged people overseas, with more and better opportunities they deserve.
It is also necessary to take measures to enhance safety for overseas volunteers. It was heart-breaking that two Korean volunteers in their 20s were killed in a lightning accident in Sri Lanka last October. Safety education should be strengthened during the three-week training course for volunteers selected from applicants aged 20 or older.