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Ulsan volunteers aim for NGO status

Ulsan-based expat volunteering group We-hope has applied for nongovernmental organization status in a bid to step up its activities and improve transparency.

The group, which until recently operated as T-HOPE ― its Facebook page still has that name ― has been running since 2009, volunteering at orphanages, children’s centers and elsewhere.

The group was founded by Dan Gauthier, with the initials standing for Teachers Helping Other People Everywhere.

Nate Mandigo, who took over running the group with Jazzy Choi this year, said the group had changed its name to We-hope to be more inclusive.

“It was kind of exclusive to ‘waegukins,’ (foreigners) or it had an image of that, with Koreans that helped from the outside,” he said.

“We would like to include more people who are more permanent to Ulsan because there has been lead and head volunteers for a while, but they are all transient and they leave. It’s hard to have someone who has a really good job and then, boom, they are gone and you can’t replace them.”

In the spirit of that, the signatures from volunteers and donors in the NGO application were split evenly between foreign and Korean supporters. Mandigo said that NGO status would allow official recognition and give them easier access to government support, such as booking venues.

“We thought we would pick up and go in a different direction where we could be more reputable, a little more transparent and have a trail behind the donations that we get,” he said.

“Part of the problem is that when people donate money there is no trail, so they are sending it to (a private) bank account and then there is nothing after that,” he said, pointing out that money raised for some events such as Christmas parties at a local orphanage could exceed $5,000.

Gauthier faced various problems when trying to make T-HOPE a recognized organization, and other commitments meant he no longer had time to pursue activities fully. However, his efforts mean that the group has the meeting minutes and other documentation required to file as an NGO, and Mandigo is confident in its success.

“I think we’re pretty optimistic that this will happen, and if it doesn’t, we will try again,” he said. “But I think that we know enough people and we have prepared well enough.”

Mandigo explained that the group had raised funds through local events such as the Dragon Boat Race during Ulsan’s Whale Festival, trivia nights and poker-themed bar crawls.

He said We-hope was looking to organize an indie music and craft beer festival to raise money, but also had more regular plans such as a lucky draw at the Ulsan Cup soccer tournament on May 23.

Currently the main volunteering activities are for play therapy with autistic children at the Lotus Center, and volunteering with activities at a local orphanage.

However, he was confident that there was a lot of potential for growth.

“The foreign high school has contacted me and said, ‘All our kids speak English, if you need any volunteers feel free to call us.’ The police department has said the same thing. So there is tons of support, we just have to get the ball rolling,” he said.

By Paul Kerry (