S. KOREAN NON-PROFIT PROVIDING “FREE ENGLISH LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES FOR N. KOREAN REFUGEES,” AWAITS 501C(3) STATUS IN THE U.S.
A Seoul-based non-profit providing free English learning opportunities for North Korean refugees is gaining a lot of attention. Founded in 2013, the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) has provided its services to over 320 North Korean refugee students. Kim Hyun-jin reports from Seoul.
The Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR), located in a small corner of Seoul’s Mapo area. In a humble room of 15 pyeong, a North Korean woman in her 40s is studying English one-on-one with an American volunteer tutor.
She is still at the level of learning numbers in English, but she carefully listens to her tutor’s explanations and does her best to follow.
Founded in March 2013, TNKR, as its name suggests, has taught English to over 320 North Korean refugees.
Hear from Casey Lartigue, the co-founder of the organization:
[Reporter] “Can you explain yourself in Korean?”
[Casey Lartigue] “No, I cannot….”
A graduate of Harvard University, Lartigue says his Korean skills are very rudimentary and continues introducing himself in English.
[Casey Lartigue] “I’m an American living in South Korea, I’m a co-director at TNKR. I do a couple of other things….”
Lartigue is a columnist for The Korea Times and also a lecturer at a university in Seoul. But he says he feels the happiest when he is helping North Korean refugees improve their English skills and get closer to achieving their dreams.
Lee Eunkoo, who co-founded TNKR with Lartigue, describes the organization’s English program:
[Lee Eunkoo] “TNKR has two English programs. One program involves general English, focusing on North Korean refugee students who want to freely speak with foreigners. Track 2 involves public speaking, helping those N. Korean refugee students who wish to tell their own stories in English.”
TNKR originally began with just a few volunteer tutors and students. But as the word about the program began to spread among N. Korean refugees, the number of students swelled and the refugees must now wait for their turns on the waiting list.
Lartigue says that N. Korean refugees from all over S. Korea are reaching out to TNKR to learn English.
[Casey Lartigue] “She lives in Daegu, she didn’t go back to Daegu until she had a chance… We had a student from Busan…”
According to Lartigue, nearly 100 students are currently on the waiting list. The N. Korean refugees wanting to join TNKR must submit an online application and take part in an interview.
[Casey Lartigue] Why do you want to join TNKR?”
[Kim Ga-young, N. Korean refugee & TV personality] “Because I want to learn English…”
Kim Ga-young, who escaped from N. Korea in 2013 and appears on S. Korea’s ‘Moranbong Club’ TV talk show, is one of those applicants on the waiting list.
[Kim Ga-young] “I frequently travel to foreign countries for work, but I cannot communicate at all. First of all, my English level very basic level, and I wasn’t sure if I could join TNKR. So I wanted to know if beginners could also join…”
A few TNKR graduates are now using their fluent English skills to raise awareness about North Korea’s human rights situation on the international stage. Hear from Park Yeon-mi, a North Korean refugee woman, speaking at the globally renowned TED conference.
[Park Yeon-mi speaking at TED.]
Lee Sungju, a former N. Korean street child who escaped at the age of 15 and received a Master’s degree as a Chevening scholar in the U.K., also has a relationship with TNKR.
Asked who is his most memorable student, Lartigue cheerfully replies as follows:
[Casey Lartigue] “Cherie, she came to South Korea Jan 2015, and she wanted to meet me, after I explained our program, she stayed in Korea….”
Cherie Yang, who went directly to the United States from Thailand and has become a naturalized U.S. citizen, initially studied at a two-year community college. But due to her low English level, Cherie was unable to complete her studies and began to work at restaurant and a trading company. However, she has since regained her confidence and significantly improved her English level after studying at TNKR. Cherie recently gave a TEDx talk in the U.K.
Behind such achievements were the sweat and effort of volunteer tutors. To date, over 700 volunteer tutors have taught English at TNKR.
Youngmin Kwon, who is on a medical leave from the Georgetown University Law Center, is one of them.
[Youngmin Kwon] “Doing such a basic thing as helping refugee by using my language skill which is privilege…”
Alex Hickey, an American volunteer starting his first class today, says he hopes to be of assistance, however small, to the N. Korean refugees.
[Alex Hickey] “NK defectors are people who go all the way through China to somewhere like Laos or Thailand to try to get freedom and those people deserve it more than most of people in the world….that’s why I want to help out…”
In addition to teaching English for N. Korean refugees, TNKR is also actively involved in raising awareness within the international community on North Korea’s human rights situation.
[5th TNKR Global Leadership Forum]
“Welcome you all. Today TNKR’s 5th Global Leadership forum…..”
On December 6, 2017, TNKR held its 5th Global Leadership Forum. Among the featured speakers included Lee Tae-won, a North Korean refugee whose wife and son were forcibly repatriated from China in November. Speaking alongside him were Ji Hyeon-a, a North Korean refugee author, and Hwang In-cheol, a South Korean whose father was abducted by N. Korea in 1969. The forum helped bring attention to their respective plights and made an appeal to the international community for support.
Lartigue says that TNKR, which is a registered non-profit organization in S. Korea, is currently undergoing a process for getting a 501c(3) status in Virginia.
[Casey Lartigue] “We are now setting up to get the 501c(3) status in the US also…”
According to Lartigue, Virginia is one of those states that allows overseas NGOs to receive 501c(3) status. Upon registration, TNKR will be able to receive donations from U.S.-based donors.
Expressing his sense of fulfilment, Lartigue says the following about his plan for the new year:
[Casey Lartigue] “To remain fun and to be able to help more North Korean refugees.”
Kim Hyun-jin, VOA News.
Translated from Korean by Youngmin Kwon
REPORT IN KOREAN
[특파원 리포트] ‘탈북민에 무료 영어교육’ 단체, 올해 미 NGO 등록