The World Mission Society Church of God University Student Volunteer Group [ASEZ] was awarded the UNCCD Executive Secretary Award on June 17. ASEZ took part in the virtual choir competition to mark the 10 Years of Changwon Initiative, and received the highest award.
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification [UNCCD] is a convention signed by the international community on June 17, 1994, aiming to prevent desertification caused by indiscriminate development, and to help the areas affected by desertification. In this Convention, 194 countries have joined, and its secretariat is located in Bonn, Germany. In 2011, the UNCCD COP 10 was held in Changwon, Republic of Korea (hereinafter referred to as Korea), and it adopted the Changwon Initiative which contains plans for the implementation of the Convention.
In 2021, the secretariat of the UNCCD and the Korea Forest Service hosted a global virtual choir competition to combat desertification in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Initiative. ASEZ submitted two songs: UNCCD’s theme song, “Born From the Land,” along with ASEZ’s own song, “Into the Forest” which has a message, “Let’s restore forests and hand them over to our future generations.”
UNCCD announced the award-winners at the COP 15 in Ivory Coast, Côte d’Ivoire, in May of this year. The hosts chose the long list based on the number of views and Likes on YouTube, and evaluated each team’s musical expression, message, and artistry. A team from the Philippines and another team from Korea received the Korea Forest Service Minister’s Award and Korea South Gyeongsang Province Governor’s Award, respectively. ASEZ received the highest award—the UNCCD Executive Secretary Award.
The award ceremony was held at the Sejong National Arboretum on June 17, celebrating the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. The ceremony was attended by Korea Forest Service Minister Nam Sung-hyun, Mongolian Ambassador to Korea H.E. Erdenetsogtin Sarantogos, Chairperson of the Korea Arboreta and Gardens Institute Ryu Kwang-soo, National Sejong Arboretum Director Lee Yoo-mi, and other officials from the NGOs that work for preventing desertification.
Nam Sung-hyun, the Korea Forest Service Minister, said, “If we don’t prevent desertification and drought now, various problems will occur not only in Korea but all over the world. Now is the time to take action.” He added, “Forests, which are our livelihood and the source of our ecosystem, are being devastated more rapidly all around the world. The Forest Service too will make every effort for green Korea and green Earth.” Ambassador H.E. Erdenetsogtin Sarantogos explained the situation in Mongolia which is already undergoing desertification, saying, “Desertification is now a disaster in all aspects of life. We need collective efforts to respond it. Let’s work together to achieve our common goal.”
Korea Forest Service Minister Nam Sung-hyun presented the award to ASEZ. Then, the representative speakers of the future generation recited the Declaration to Combat Desertification and Drought. The Declaration called for action to restore forests and the ecosystem to prevent desertification which is directly related to the survival of mankind. At the end of the ceremony, ASEZ sang three songs, including “Into the Forest” and “Born From the Land” in celebration of the award, and wrapped up the event.
ASEZ is actively working on improving environmental issues, for example, preventing desertification through “Greenship Network.” They constantly hold environmental campaigns, seminars, and forums in cooperation with government agencies and universities around the world to promote the importance of forest. In the first five years from 2016 to 2021 since its establishment, ASEZ has planted more than 11,000 trees in the United States, Australia, the Philippines, Cambodia, India, Argentina, Peru, and the Dominican Republic.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEZ has been working by complying with the COVID-19 guidelines. With the music submitted at the choir competition, too, ASEZ raised awareness on environment and desertification. This year, at the XV World Forestry Congress held at COEX, Seoul, Korea, from May 2 to 6, ASEZ learned the policies and theories necessary for protecting forest from domestic and foreign leaders and experts, and discussed on how to apply them on each campus. This provided an opportunity for Ecuador’s Vice Minister of Environment, Bianca Dager Jervis to give a special lecture for ASEZ members at the New Jerusalem Pangyo Temple in Korea on May 5.
ASEZ will carry out practical activities for Earth, such as creating mangrove forests and planting trees to reduce carbon, and build solidarity with various groups and citizens as well as university students. Lee Eun-ji (Freshman studying horticulture), who is interested in the environment, said, “My grandparents are farmers and my class grows crops, so I’ve been experiencing the huge damage caused by the recent droughts. Thanks to today’s event, I’ve reaffirmed the seriousness of desertification. As a member of ASEZ, I will take the lead in combating desertification at my school.”