Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)
The Soccer World Cup will take place this year under the auspices of Japan and Korea and consequently the year 2002 has become the "Korea-Japan International Exchange Year." Political, cultural and all kinds of private events are already scheduled. For instance, events like the Korean-Japanese citizens' festivals will consequently take place, during the months of September and November. Again, volunteers gathering during the World Cup Convention are expected to be numerous and their operations are attracting public attention.

Now, with regard to the exchange volunteer programs between Japanese and North-South Koreans, there is a group that, since the beginning of 1990, has started unique activities. It is called the Korea Volunteer Association with its main office in Osaka (Ikuno ward). The actual representative, Mr. Kang Su-Bong, a calligrapher second generation Korean living in Japan, established a Korea Cultural Hall for the disabled that became the predecessor of the association.

The association proceeded smoothly till it hit the 'invisible 38th parallel.' In other words, whenever a North Korean fell sick, practically no South Korean medical center could take care of that person due to political reasons. In order to overcome the national barriers between North and South, the Korea Volunteer Association made an appeal to all ethnic Korean groups, at the end of 1993, stressing the need of mutual help based on the fact that in Japan there is no North-South 38th parallel division. The reaction was great and positive, so much that in January 1994 the above Association was organized. Near 300 groups approved the organization and among them, both the North Korean Osaka Life Advisory Bureau for Koreans and South Korean Women's Association for Democracy (Osaka) also gave their approval. Later, more groups and individuals joined.

In 1995, at the time of the Hanshin big earthquake, the Volunteer Association actively participated in rescue activities, distributing food, building temporary shelters and caring for the sick within a wide territory. Further on, it conducted studies of the Korean language to take care of the sick, bazaars and exchange programs with students from Korea, extending its field of action in spite of not being a non-profit organization.
But the association found itself caught in a pinch because of an unpredictable accident. Due to the serious business recession, the fund raising campaign has met with difficulties and the association was obliged to give up its 100„é°land. The company that owned the land that became the main office of the association, since its establishment, went bankrupted in May 2000. As a result, the owner changed and the association was obliged to evacuate in September 2000. The volunteer association could not continue its 24 hour services for the sick and had to stop functioning as a shelter. At present, it uses a temporary office with 7 staff members and several volunteers.

Although the funds have greatly diminished the staff and volunteers continue working by their own efforts. In the occasion of the International Volunteer Year 2001, the association got public attention with its volunteer activities taking care of senior citizens, Japanese and Koreans, that have been left out of the new medical system that has started anew in Japan. We have received the good news that, South Korean Christian churches are ready to fund, starting this February, the activities of the association.

No matter such favorable circumstances, the financial situation is still precarious and, since the size of the funding body is still unknown, the way lying ahead is uncertain. The volunteer center, a non-profit group with an underpaid staff and free volunteers, faces new challenges, day after day, as it grows expanding the circle of "sarang" (Korean expression for love) that is the big vision of all its activities.

(Mr. Chung Byoung Hoon has helped with material for this article)

The Korea Volunteer Association is gathering funds to build a center or an open square, where everybody, especially people with disabilities and senior citizens can easily relax. Please, make your contributions.
(For more details, please contact the editor)
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