“In normal schools that most students go to, their volunteering opportunities is very limited. Schools don’t actually help students find and do a variety of volunteering opportunities,” says Lee.
The situation of South Korea’s students highlights one of the challenges faced by many organisations: creating volunteer opportunities that are purposeful and meaningful for youth.
According to Lee, while well-designed schemes can provide benefits to youth and society, volunteerism in South Korean high schools is counter-productive to the goal of engaging youth in civic spaces.
Perdita Sonntag from the United Nations Volunteers described volunteerism as the “activities undertaken of free will, for the public good and where monetary reward is not the principal motivating factor.”
But getting the balance right is difficult.
According to Layne Robinson, from the Youth Division at the Commonwealth Secretariat, some government-organised national volunteer schemes also require youth to participate in poorly designed volunteer programmes.
What then are the best practices for managing volunteer schemes to ensure that the opportunities available to the youth are both meaningful and purposeful? Where do we draw the line separating volunteerism from mandatory service and, sometimes, exploitation?
According to Sonntag, there should always be reciprocity of personal and professional development in volunteering opportunities.
“When you engage young people, you have to make sure that you know what skills they come up with and you know what knowledge they bring to the table,” according to Natchaw Wadman of the VSO International.
Wadman said that organisations should be able to have a better understanding of their support mechanisms to ensure that the volunteering experience which they offer is both meaningful and engaging.