For Kim Myung-jeon, the chairman of Green Ranger, a nonprofit organization that helps young people take part in environmental campaigns, planting trees goes beyond wanting to provide people with fresher air.
He considers it an educational practice that can help promote well-rounded citizens who will contribute to society in ways that truly matter.
“It is ultimately the people who change the world,” Kim told The Korea Herald in an interview.
“And guiding the youth so that they may grow up to become good Samaritans who are capable of changing the world is, personally, a tremendous triumph.”
Kim Myung-jeon, Green Ranger chairman (Green Ranger)
Green Ranger is one institution that aims to do exactly that.
“Fundamentally, I believe that’s what education is really about. Although immediate results, such as doing well academically and getting into prestigious colleges, should not be neglected, a more long-term perspective of growth is equally important for the youth,” Kim added.
Green Ranger, the only environmental NGO in the country that targets the younger generation, was started more or less through chance.
Kim had been a journalist for the state-run broadcaster KBS for 18 years, during which time he was given the opportunity to go on a business trip to Germany to cover a story on Germany’s forestry sector.
“In Germany, trees and nature were parts of ordinary life,” Kim explained. “Forestry there is structurally and systematically very well established and preserved.”
He said it didn’t take too long for him to realize that Korea was in dire need of change.
Korea in the 1980s, at the peak of its industrialization, had such heavy air pollution that it was difficult to breathe properly, according to Kim.
If Seoul were to be transformed into a greener city someone needed to plant trees, and Kim decided to lead the way.
He founded Green Ranger under the Korea Forest Service in 1991, with the mission of not simply planting trees but educating the youth on the importance of taking care of the environment.
The group has now grown to about 70,000 members, and roughly 8,000 new students join each year.
They partake in various volunteer activities such as delivering firewood to the elderly or maintaining the parks, going on overnight trips in the woods in order to experience and learn about Korea’s forests, and participating in national events like Arbor Day.
When asked what he hopes students take away with them after they graduate as “Green Rangers,” he said his vision is twofold: “One, the value of life, and the other, the love and respect for the environment.”
He emphasized that the environment is not something that someone else protects, but something that we ourselves must protect.
“If one gets a chance at a young age to plant a tree with one’s own hands and watch that tree slowly grow with time, the happiness and sense of accomplishment that follows can only be understood by someone who has tried it,” said Kim.
He also reiterated that it was crucial to take responsibility and experience the full process, including the final stage of contemplating how people will preserve the tree’s life.
Planting trees should not be done for yourself but for the future.
“If you relocate a fully grown tree to where you want it, then the action is performed for your own satisfaction, but if you plant a seedling, it’s for future generations,” Kim stressed.
Green Ranger does not receive any publicity or rewards, but Kim says planting trees the Green Ranger way is a sincere and genuine social contribution.
By Kim Joo-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)