|▲ A social worker is helping the seniors drawing at Sindangdong Catholic Daycare Center|
/Photography from Sindang Catholic Daycare Center
Volunteer work has been receiving a lot of attention from university students as it offers rewarding experience of helping people. At Dongguk University, the number of students doing volunteer work has been increasing continuously on an annual basis. However, the overall participation rate in volunteer organizations that cover senior citizens and the disabled is particularly low compared to that of other types of organizations. That is, the students at Dongguk University show a tendency to avoid volunteer groups that assist the elderly and the disabled.
Such a weighted preference can possibly have negative effects on the students themselves as well as the society they are living in now. The causes of this problem have arisen from not only the students’ attitude, but also the absence of comprehensive structure in both the school and outside volunteer organizations. Hence, a sophisticated system needs to be established that thoroughly connects the school, volunteer centers, and students all together.
The numbers of students at Dongguk University who participated in volunteer work in 2013, 2014, and 2015 were 4,056, 4,501, and 5,427 respectively. In spite of these large numbers, which have constantly increased for three years, the share of people who volunteer for organizations oriented toward senior citizens and the disabled is much lower than that of other kinds of organizations. To illustrate, the participation rate of 2015 was 38.48 percent for public organizations, such as libraries and museums, 28.95 percent in civic organizations like Consumers Unions, and 16.19 percent in organizations that care for children and teenagers. On the other hand, only 4.24 percent of volunteers at disability associations and 0.09 percent at senior citizen associations.
The senior citizen and disability organizations have trouble with the shortage of number of university volunteers. Park Jung-hee, a social worker of Gangbuk Welfare Center for the Disabled, said, “The number of Dongguk students coming to our center to volunteer is almost zero. We do not have enough social workers who can serve better quality of caring the elders.”
Dongguk University has a regular contract with Yeoksam Senior Center, Seoul Senior Center, and Sindang Daycare Center, where students get to distribute lunch to the elderly. The Dongguk Chamsaram Volunteers, which is a voluntary organization at Dongguk University, recruits students for every third and fourth Thursdays of each month, aiming those who wish to volunteer at Yeoksam Senior Center and Seoul Senior Center. Plus, it collects volunteers for Sindang Daycare Center every Wednesday. Nevertheless, Kim Jong-ae, the section chief of the Chamsaram Volunteers, explained, “We aim to recruit five students every time we need people to distribute food to the elderly. However, the requirement is usually not satisfied. Most of the time, only one or two students go, or even none.” Moreover, Park Chang-nam, the director of Sindangdong Catholic Daycare Center, mentioned, “We tried to make contract with the Chamsaram Volunteers several times, but we could not make it because nobody applied to volunteer at all. The contract was naturally cancelled. ”
|▲ The senior citizens are taking a music class in Sindang Catholic Daycare Center.|
/Photography from Sindang Catholic Daycare Center
While Donggukians’ volunteer participation rate is much lower in organizations that care senior citizens and the disabled, the causes that provoke such phenomenon is diverse. The causes include not only students’ awareness towards the senior citizens and the disabled but also scarcity of enough communication between the Chamsaram Volunteers, volunteer organizations, and students. In turn, this suggests that problems in both the internal and external systems should be mended.
Misunderstanding between Chamsaram Volunteers and students
There are various reasons why not many Donggukians are volunteering at organizations targeting senior citizens and the disabled. First, there is a misconception in comprehending each other’s circumstances between the Chamsaram Volunteers and the students. Chasaram assumed that the reason for low participation rate was the fear towards the burden that they would have to go through when working in the organizations for seniors and the disabled. Kim Jong-ae, the section chief of the Chamsaram Volunteers said, “I suspect that students avoid such organizations just by looking at their names. The words ‘elderly’ and ‘disabled,’ probably make them think the work will be too difficult and tiresome. They are not trying to do weary voluntary work, maybe because they still have the habit of being obliged to do volunteer work just like in high school years.” She added, “Also, they seem to worry if and how they can really help the senior citizens and the disabled.”
Meanwhile, Kim Min-sung (Sophomore, Korean Education) who has had a regular and constant volunteer experience, said that many students tend to be disappointed with the activities they actually do in the organizations because the work was different from what they expected. Even though they wanted to directly interact with the seniors and the disabled, they were asked to clean facilities, such as rooms, toilets, and the cafeteria. Kim explained about his volunteer experience at a senior organization, “When I was applying for the volunteer activity, I thought I would directly interact with the elderly: for example, massage their shoulders and be a companion to talk with. However, I spent most of my time there cleaning the rooms and chopping onions.”
Few opportunities to directly interact with senior citizens and the disabled
Generally, the volunteer work that students do can be divided into two different forms: direct and indirect. Direct activities include talking to senior citizens or the disabled, providing food, or giving a bath. On the other hand, indirect work involves cleaning the facilities or doing the laundry. Nonetheless, Kim Min-sung mentioned that a lot of volunteers wish to have direct interaction with the people they are helping.
Yet, students are mostly given with only indirect works. An officer at Seoul Welfare Center for the Visually Handicapped mentioned, “Most voluntary work we provide to university students are indirect activities.” The section chief Kim also said, “It is true that there are more organizations that provide indirect activities than the ones that offer direct work to students.” She further explained, “This is because the associations want ‘professionals,’ while students are not. Plus, even if some associations provide students with chances to experience direct interaction with seniors or the disabled, students decide not to go. This happens because the associations want them to volunteer for a long time, while students feel too burdened for a regular and constant volunteering work.”
Students’ hesitation to meet senior citizens and the disabled
Another reason for the low participation of Donggukians in volunteering works for senior citizens and the disabled is students’ hesitation to interact with them. As the section chief Kim said, it is true that there are some students who avoid such types of volunteer organizations because they feel the work would be too harsh.
Kim Min-sung mentioned that such students’ tendency of having hesitation applies to some of his fellow volunteers as well. He explained that they think that the seniors and the disabled people would be harder to deal with than the non-disabled people and have fears that there will be some aggressive people. He added, “Not only that, some students think that they cannot give much help to the seniors and the disabled. Since most of them are beginners, they think that the work will be difficult and burdensome as they do not have much experience spending time with them.” Moreover, an officer at the Gangbuk Welfare Center for the Disabled said, “There are even students who go back home as soon as they find out that our center targets the disabled, not the non-disabled children. This indicates that some university students have negative judgments on helping the disabled.”
Lack of information provided to students
The provision of information about volunteer work regarding senior citizens and the disabled is insufficient. This not only leads to students’ disappointment when they actually volunteer but also hinders more future participation, failing to promote the volunteer works. To be specific, while the Chamsaram Volunteers receives a paper file explaining the volunteer activity from the organizations, the information provided by the organization is too minimal, simply stating “Program support” which is not even a sentence.
Furthermore, on the website of Yangcheon Senior Welfare Center, the only explanation it has is about financial and material support. There is no explanation about the volunteer work, even though it is an organization that recruits people to do volunteer work as well. Regarding this matter, the Yangcheon Senior Welfare Center answered, “Instead of posting the information on the website, we notify the specific volunteer work information in volunteer service providing sites, such as 1365 or VMS.” However, it turned out that the information on these sites is also scant and ambiguous: “Voluntary programs that help the senior citizens.” Such short and insufficient information deters students from applying to the organations owing to the failure in earning a precise information which can alleviate their fear.
Reducing opportunites to volunteer for senior citizens and the disabled
The matter of low participation of Donggukians in senior citizen and disabled organizations is not the only problem itself. It also has negative effects on students and on the society. As the matter stands, many volunteer organizations with low student participation tend to avoid keeping contracts with Dongguk University.
In fact, the number of organizations, made a contract with Dongguk, has decreased from 100 to 84 between 2015 and 2016. This means 16 organizations dropped their contracts, while 11 of these are organizations that target senior citizens and the disabled. Yangcheon Senior Welfare Service Center said, “We are not providing volunteering programs to give students ‘specs.’ We need volunteers who sincerely want to help. If the required number of students is not recruited, there is no reason to renew the contract.” The section chief Kim of the Chamsaram Volunteers also mentioned, “We feel sorry for organizations where no student apply to volunteer. Therefore, we decided to cross out the names of those organizations on the contract list.” As a result, students can end up losing their opportunities to choose where to do volunteer work.
Obstacle to social integration
Moreover, deficiency in the supply of student volunteers will affect the society. Professor Hong Song-lee, the Joint major of Social Welfare, said, “Even though the aging population grows generally, the youngsters are not fully aware of this fact. University students cannot be forced to volunteer, but at least they need to try to understand the seniors’ lives. University students are the ones who will take charge of caring the seniors in the future. The imbalance between demands and supplies in volunteer organizations needs to be solved.” She further explained that understanding them may serve as one of the key roles in solving conflicts between generations and leading to form a harmonious society.
Improving mutual understanding, provision of information, and direct educational opportunities
Not only students but also the welfare center and volunteer organizations at school need to put effort into resolving this ongoing problem. First, everyone involved should work on improving communication. The Chamsaram Volunteers and welfare organizations think students prefer not to volunteer at senior citizen and disability organizations because they have a negative view about it.
However, this is not necessarily true. This misconception has come about because the school, students, and welfare organizations never had a chance to listen to each others’ voices. Thus, mutual respect and understanding are needed in order to clear up the misconception.
In addition, welfare organizations are not providing specific information about what kind of work students should do, and the Chamsaram does not state the information clearly on the recruiting board. Hence, students are not given enough information about the volunteer work in advance, and end up being dissatisfied and discouraged. Therefore, more information should be provided by the Chamsaram Volunteers and organizations for a better understanding about volunteering at senior citizen and disability organizations.
Last but not least, the school has to spare no effort on offering experienced education of the senior citizens and disabled. Since students do not have enough chances to encounter the elderly and the disabled in reality, they do not have proper awareness about the elders and disabled. In Singapore, the university students are given time to experience the lives of the elders and disabled by spending a day on a wheelchair or take a slow walk like them, so that students can sympathize with solicitude. Professor Hong Song-lee highlighted, “There is no better way of learning than experiencing firsthand. If the school provides experience-based education to students, students will be able to have a better understanding of the elderly and the disabled.”
Effort needed from school, volunteer organizations as well as students
Despite the fact that the total number of volunteering students is increasing every year, the number of students who volunteer at senior citizen and disabled organizations is still low. The reasons can be found among students, the school’s volunteer organization and welfare organizations. In order to find countermeasures, all of them should actively try to find solutions to the problem.
Volunteering is a rewarding experience, as it can be a time that benefits the community and the volunteers themselves as well. The section chief of the Chamsaram Volunteers Kim Jong-ae advised, “Spending time volunteering may sound tiring and arduous since university students are already busy enough studying and building ‘specs.’ However, even though students do not apply for volunteer work to gain a so-called ‘specs,’ I am pretty sure that this volunteering experience will automatically become their ‘specs’ which will help them to find employment when trying to enter the job market in the future.” She further explained that almost every students who participated in constant volunteer work with the Chamsaram Volunteers earned a satisfcatory outcome in the job fields. The section chief Kim emphasized, “Yet, regardless of ‘specs,’ most importantly, once they experience volunteer work, they will be touched and learn many things. I am sure that volunteering will be one of the most meaningful experiences they can get for their future.”
Lee MinJeong, Lim Ji-soo firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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