YMCA in Korea: Building a Sustainable Planet through solidarity

Date: 26 February 2024

(above: Raonatti participants making friends with young people in Chiangmai, Thailand)

By Da-eun Yang / an executive director of the international and university YMCA department.

The Raonatti programme is an Asian youth leadership programme that the National Council of YMCAs of Korea (NCYK) has continued for 15 years under the sponsorship of KB Kookmin Bank. The main goal is to help young people in Asia dream of a sustainable future together by becoming friends with each other. Raonatti (meaning friendship in Korean) is based on cooperation with various YMCAs in Asia. NCYK trains young people in Korea and sends them to YMCAs in Asia – a total of 11 countries belonging to the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs – to carry out projects for sustainable Asia, including volunteer work and educational activities.

Planting trees with local children in Malang, Indonesia
2,700 trees were planted in 2024

Raonatti stopped sending Korean youths due to Covid-19 and resumed its activities in 2024. It has been renewed as a three-week programme with local YMCAs of four countries – Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam – under the theme of Sustainable Asia, Youth Climate Leadership. Thirty-six Korean participants trained in Korea based on the climate crisis, human rights, and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and were sent to four countries last January. A total of 2,700 trees were planted with the local YMCAs for these three weeks.

Tree planting is the easiest and most effective way for carbon absorption. The most important thing about tree planting is that there should be a system for caring for trees planted by local communities. To this end, the NCYK received advice from the Executive Director of Green Asia Network, Oh Ki-Chul, who received the first prize in the U.N. Land for Life Award for making forests with Mongolian communities. Oh emphasized that planting trees that are not beneficial to the local community is meaningless and not sustainable based on his 30-year experience.

Planting trees with local communities in Chiangmai, Thailand

To apply this principle, the local YMCAs in four countries put in a lot of effort to connect with the local communities to ensure that trees can be planted in places where they will receive follow-up management. In addition, they contacted local government offices and schools so trees could be planted in public places and each institution could take care of them. Educational programmes to teach more than 500 local children about the importance and enjoyment of planting trees through planting together with the participants were also designed.

Civil solidarity and international cooperation are sustainable solutions 

In addition to planting trees, the participants carried out various campaigns and educational activities. In connection with a local university, YMCA Vietnam helped participants conduct a local campaign to exchange plastics for flower pots. YMCA Cambodia provided an opportunity to repair a daycare centre for poor children in the region. Through a street campaign with YMCA Malang in Indonesia, the participants explained the seriousness of the climate crisis and the importance of planting trees. The Chiangmai YMCA in Thailand provided an opportunity for participants to conduct energy-saving education and campaigns for children in local schools.

Street Campaign in Malang, Indonesia

As the participants planned and conducted climate crisis campaigns in Asia, they came to think deeply about the concept of sustainability. The climate crisis is a huge problem that can only be overcome through solidarity and cooperation among global citizens. However, personal learning and personal efforts to solve the climate crisis are still prevalent in Asian countries. Through their first-hand experience, they learned that international cooperation, education to reduce carbon and youth leadership are essential.

Climate campaign with young people in a local university in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Meeting people is a sustainable international solidarity

The beginning and the end of solidarity is to become friends. The participants talked a lot about the friendships they shared with the staff members of the YMCAs, young people and the communities.  Planting many trees was good, but the experience of making friends with strangers in an unfamiliar environment was inspiring and exciting.

Three weeks is a short time to respond to the climate crisis. However, the main goal of the programme is to inspire young people to imagine a sustainable Asia and a sustainable earth through making and taking care of their friends in the YMCA international networks. In fact, several participants are planning follow-up programmes by themselves, and the NCYK will support their plan. Since the Raonatti is an annual program, NCYK will strive to develop a sustainable international cooperation model and a youth climate leadership model with our YMCA friends.

At the YMCA daycare centre at Siem Reap, Cambodia

Humans are making the earth sick by destroying the environment, and discrimination and hatred between humans have divided the world. Many suffer from war, disease and poverty. I came to think that technology and institution are not the problem, but people. At the same time the solution is people too. Raonatti enhanced my understanding of people and made me work with people for the same goal.

Junmo Gu

Sent to Thailand