Seventeen students gathered in their clubhouse at Kansai University of International Studies finish reviewing enlarged photos for an exhibition at their autumn campus festival. Then they move on to the next important task — who should draft the text to accompany the photos and how it should be worded.

Focus must be on “international volunteerism for development as we saw it,” said one student. “We’ll let visitors understand clearly that volunteer work is one particular form of North-South cooperation that we have in mind.”

It’s still “too general,” another breaks in. “We should be more specific.” Yet another student adds, “I don’t think anybody will object if we go ahead with the original plan and put special emphasis on the future of Paaralang Pantao and the well-being of squatters we met along the single-track railroad.”

At the pounding of the gavel for approval, the 15 juniors and two sophomores were now ready to participate in the campus festival scheduled for late November. The photo exhibition would show what they learned while on a recent field-study tour of the Philippines.

The world’s population has now exceeded 6 billion people. Of those, 1.2 billion people have to survive on a dollar a day, and 1.8 billion on two dollars. Who can say we live in a world of affluence and abundance when half the global population remains that poor? Recent statistics show 27 percent of the Philipines’ 78 million population live in dire poverty, compared with an average 19 percent in Asia and the Pacific. What should we do to help correct this imbalance?

The United Nations has proclaimed 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers for Global Observance. Kansai University of International Studies’ campus festival, which was open to the public, presented a good opportunity to tell the story of volunteers for development. While in Manila, the ambitious students from Japan attended a round-table meeting with 10 United Nations volunteers, and then exchanged views with three government-sponsored Japanese overseas-cooperation volunteers.

Participation in volunteer work was also made possible when they visited two institutes, one for the destitute and dying, the other for abandoned children, founded by Mother Teresa in Tondo, Manila. Their guide was Father Toru Nishimoto, an education-minded Japanese Roman Catholic who has been living in Manila for more than 25 years.

What kind of volunteer work should young Japanese people foster at home? How can it be developed to help ease the plight of their Asian neighbors? The 21st century is often said to be the age of Asia and the Pacific region. Why shouldn’t Asians help Asians?

Volunteerism is not simple charity; it is a technical, cooperative effort. It is not mere sympathy; it is deep compassion. Genuine volunteerism should be supported by professional excellence and selfless dedication, covering all fields of activity for national development: agriculture, fishery, primary health care, medicine, engineering, the environment, education, humanitarian relief, peace building, and so forth. Expertise is always the key to success.

Terence D. Jones, the head of the U.N. office in Manila and responsible for both the recruitment and the assignment of U.N. volunteers in the Philippines, says the work of U.N. volunteers is “a vital force to the social development efforts” of host countries.

“Now I think I know what volunteerism really means,” recalls a one student volunteer. “I’m very fortunate,” she adds, “to have been able to learn and bring home what international volunteerism for development should really be.”

The contribution of whatever small amount of money volunteers have managed to raise for a cause may deserve some sort of public recognition. Yet, Mother Teresa, comparing her work to “just a drop in the ocean,” said that the ocean would be one drop smaller if she had not done it. In saying so, she did not expect anything in return. Though a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa once said: “I don’t agree with the big way of doing things.”

The Kansai University students are firmly convinced that the lessons they have brought home from the Philippines “outweigh what we have learned from school and family in Japan.”

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