Volunteering MPA Style

Recently, one of my co-teachers asked me to go with him during the sixth and seventh period of school and take attendance of our students at one of their volunteer opportunities. They have certain volunteer requirements to fulfill so that they can have a good resume when they finish our school. That’s not to say they should volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s mandatory mostly so our school looks good, at least that’s my opinion of mandatory volunteering. In my day volunteering meant picking up trash, feeding people at a shelter, or building a house with Habitat for Humanity. All of the activities that I was a part of meant manual labor, hours on my feet and at the end of the day a sense of accomplishment because I’d sweated. I’d done something and I could see a finished product. I’m not someone that needs a pat on the back after a day of volunteering, but I do like to see a change that I helped to produce so the manual labor volunteering activities are right up my alley. I was surprised when I got to the location of my students’ volunteer opportunity and saw them with sashes across their chests standing around with signs “listening”, though they were mostly chatting away not listening at all, to an older man talk about something or other. I asked my students what they’d volunteered for and they couldn’t really tell me. They said it was something to do with poor people but that’s all they knew. I looked around the whole area and saw groups of students from at least five different schools meandering around with their sashes and signs and saw maybe 20 supporters of the actual cause the gentleman was talking about. Twenty minutes later the speeches had ended due to rain and the organizers took the opportunity for a photo-op and got each group of students up on the stage with the speakers and took photos to show that they have support from even the youngins. The photo-op was clearly the whole point of the students attending. A two hour volunteer activity got cut short because of the rain and the speakers sent the students home. Meanwhile, I was dumbfounded at such a display of “volunteering”. I asked my co-teacher what the point was and he said it was so the students give back to the community. I’m fairly certain they didn’t give anything back at all and they’re being taught that volunteering equals twenty minutes of standing around to get a point on a resume. Great!

This got me thinking about my own volunteering back in the day and how it did feel good to do something. I got on the internet looked around and found an opportunity that suited me. The Marine Protected Area(MPA) Center was hosting a Daebu Island clean-up.

“An MPA is a legally protected region for a specific marine ecosystem or seascape designated as such by the central or local government.” In Korea there are only 14 of these with 10 being wetland reserves and 4 being marine ecological reserves. I say “only” because Korea, being a peninsula, has an abundance of area that could and should be an MPA. An MPA not only protects endangered species, it also protects parts of a culture and traditions which depend on those species or the livelihood around those species or areas. Who wants to eat squid in Korea if those squid have become poisoned by the trash that we’re letting float into our oceans? If no one wants to eat squid then the squid fishermen are out of a job and come inland, coastal cities lose workers and it becomes detrimental to a culture and a way of life.

A great thing about the MPA Center’s opportunity was that it brought together Koreans and foreigners for a cause. We had a two hour informative class in the morning, which was offered in Korean in one room and English in another, about species in Korea and the situation in the oceans today. After they gave us quite a delicious lunch we headed to the beach where we broke up into teams, were assigned different locations and started cleaning up what we could. We found everything from old forgotten rope, nets that had gotten tangled in branches and rocks and were left behind, styrofoam, plastic, glass bottles, ramen packets, gloves, hats and socks.

There are nine Tidal Flat Visitor Centers in Korea, all offering different opportunities to learn about our oceans and the areas they are protecting. I hope that anyone that can takes the time to visit one and maybe think about all of that plastic we use on a daily basis that doesn’t have to be thrown away at the end of the day. Take a moment to check out the MPA Center here in Seoul and see what other events they have to be a part of. It’s a great chance to give back, learn and meet new people.

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