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Visit to UNICEF Korea and Meaningful Lessons about Social Values

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

Last Friday, November 8, our World Reporters team conducted a short but meaningful visit to UNICEF Korea. With the slogan of “For Every Child”, UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) is well-known around the world as the biggest organization defending children’s rights for a better life. Korea is considered as one of the most active members among the UNICEF National Committees. Therefore, it was such an honor for us to visit their office and meet with high representatives of the organization. Through the following interview with Mr Keycheol Lee, Executive Director of UNICEF Korea, we hope that you can learn more about their mission and the achievements they have built up since the start.

World Reporters team with our mentor Mr Sungjin Hwang

Mr Keycheol Lee worked as an ambassador for about 34 years where he held various positions both inside and outside of Korea in several countries like England, Israel, Vietnam, Australia. He became an Ambassador in the Netherlands and then Consul General in LA. After that, he has been the Executive Director of the Korean Committee for UNICEF until now. “I always feel thankful that I can do this kind of meaningful things”, he shared with us.

How is UNICEF Korea special compared to other Committees?

Thank you for this nice question. UNICEF Headquarters has always said that Korea is the greatest example which explains and shows the reason why UNICEF exits. It is such a big compliment for us. That’s because Korea has achieved two records in the history of UNICEF. The first one is that Korea became the first country to transition from an aid-receiving to an aid-providing country. I experienced it myself. When I was in middle school, I grew up eating bread from UNICEF. The organization started their support in Korea officially in 1950 and it lasted for 44 years, and then, in 1994, Korea wrote its name in the history of UNICEF, as I said. The second achievement is that not only did Korea turn into an aid-provider but is also is the world's 3rd largest donor country, following the USA and Japan. We donate the amount of approximately $121 billion a year which is more than bigger Western countries like England or Germany. The fact that we received donations in the past and developed like this became a driving force for UNICEF to continue its activities. One more special thing I would like to share is that because we were once faced with such a difficult situation, we understand well the problems which developing countries have to deal with. As a result, they prefer receiving help from Korea because it’s more “touching”. Finally, as you may know, Korea is famous for education. Our activities focus on education as much as possible.

Is there any specific developing country which UNICEF Korea is supporting?

I’ll explain how our donation works. It is divided into two parts: A-R and O-R. We collect donations in Korea and then send it to the Headquarters where they use 85% of it for A-R budget and 15% for O-R budget. After estimating the situation, the Headquarters decides where A-R budget is needed. On the other hand, there are some countries or fields that Korea wishes to pay special attention to, that’s O-R budget. As I said before, we care deeply about education, because instead of giving people fish, we should teach them how to fish – that’s what education is about. Korea is an example of using education to achieve great progress. It’s also the reason why we made the “Schools for Asia" program.

A representation of the real UNICEF's tent schools

Can you tell us the role of major companies in the donations for UNICEF KOREA?

You may all know about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Through CSR, major companies are contributing greatly to our cause. The same can be said about small and medium-sized businesses. Hoping that even a small amount of help can make children’s life all over the world better, they donate to us monthly and annually. There are companies who have a special way of donation: workers' continuous donating of one part of their salary. Another example is Asiana Airlines with their “Change for Good” program. They encourage tourists to donate spare change after the trip.

In 2017, UNICEF Korea and BTS had a collaboration campaign. Can you tell us more about this?

Our campaign is called “Love Myself”. BTS is now a famous super star worldwide so maybe there’s no need for further explanation. Let’s think about why is BTS different than other artists? Is that just because they dance and sing well? Or because they communicate well with people? In my opinion, it’s all about their philosophy. They share messages, they give hope. Did you see RM (Leader of BTS) giving a speech at the U.N.’s General Assembly last year? UNICEF Korea was the one who introduced BTS to the U.N. Around that time the following opinion started circling around Korea: “There are two great things Korea has brought to humanity: one is the simultaneous development of its democracy and economics, the other is BTS.” BTS has been put on the same level with the achievement Korean people had spent more than 60 years working on, which is a great honor for the band. That’s because through their philosophy, BTS delivers visions and dreams to children all over the world.

Are there any specific problems related to children's rights that Korea is dealing with right now?

To be honest, there are many of those. “Entrance Examination Hell" is a typical example. Education in Korea somehow has both its positive and negative sides. Education is the reason behind Korea’s development, but, in contrast, children's rights are being seriously violated. Students are now suffering from too much stress that some even commit suicide. Students in Korea rarely know the feeling of happiness. This is a remarkably serious problem. We call it a side effect of Korea's rapid development and has been impossible to avoid. However, we keep a positive attitude that our efforts will solve this problem in the future.

In the future, which problems does UNICEF Korea plan to focus on?

We work with four main Child Rights: Survival, Protection, Development and Participation. Now, in the field of Survival and Protection, Korea has reached a considerably high level. Therefore, we plan to focus more on Development and Participation.

Images drawn by children growing up in war zones

Last question: in the area of education, how does Korea contribute: by sending money directly or by dispatching volunteers?

UNICEF is now operating in 190 countries. Donations are made by developed countries and then sent to developing countries, so they can use it for their needs. UNICEF Headquarters gives money to UNICEF representative offices in those countries where the programs are conducted. It’s a cooperation between governments, UNICEF and companies. The important thing here is that UNICEF doesn’t give money directly to the governments, but to their representative offices. This prevents government officers from embezzling which is rather common in developing countries.

After the interview with Executive Director Keycheol Lee, we met Mr Charlie Seo, Director of Communication Department, for lunch. He shared more details on UNICEF Korea’s activities.

“Now Korea is holding the record of personal donation among 190 UNICEF countries with 400,000 sponsors. In 2011, UNICEF Korea even received a donation of 10 billion won from a Korean sponsor which we used to launch the “School for Asia” program. With this starting point, we keep on focusing on an education program for 11 countries in Asia. Besides, North Korea and Africa are our support target, too. Besides education, we also support countries which had suffered emergency situations like floods or earthquakes, such as Indonesia and Laos last year.

Talk continued over lunch with Mr Charlie Seo

UNICEF Korea cooperates with large entertainment companies such as SM and YG to deliver our message effectively. In the case of BTS, they themselves stated that they want to work on a global scale. Besides the “Love Myself” campaign, we and BTS joined hands for an online campaign against bullying in schools called ENDviolence. Our two-year collaboration ends this years, so we are planning other future campaigns."

Experiencing the harsh reality of a child living in a war zone through VR

At the end of the visit, we took a tour around experience zones at the UNICEF Education Center concentrated around 10 topics: History, Child Protection, Realistic Children's Stories VR zone, Climate Change Photo Zone, Child-Friendly Cities, Nutrition, Heath, Education, Voice of Children and Wash Zone. UNICEF Korea has placed these experience zones right on the first floor of its building with the aim of showing people the real lives of many children, as well as delivering messages for the people to notice and care more about children all around the world.

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