English translation of Voice of America article and broadcast about Teach North Korean Refugees.

* * *

[News Scenery] American co-founder provides free English education for North Korean refugees

TNKR (Teach North Korean Refugees) is an organization that connects North Korean defectors with native English speakers to provide free language tutoring. Co-founder Casey Lartigue (right) and volunteer Jenny Lee (middle) are pictured posing with a student.


This is News Scenery Today, reporting the hot topics of the week every Tuesday. There is an organization that provides free English classes to North Korean defectors. It was established by an American living in South Korea, who wanted to offer English education tailored to refugee needs. Jang Yang-hee reports the story.

We have seen quite a few North Korean refugees telling the world, in fluent English, about the human rights situation in North Korea.

Park Yeon-mi, a famous North Korean refugee, recently published her book “In Order to Live” in English. “A Thousand Miles to Freedom” is another piece of literature written in English by a North Korean defector.

In 2013, North Korean refugee Lee Sung-min appeared on C-TV, the most popular Canadian broadcast, to let the world know about the human rights situation in the DPRK. He was recently accepted to Columbia University, one of the most prominent schools in the United States.

These outstanding world citizens’ achievements can be attributed to the fine work of TNKR in South Korea.

TNKR stands for “Teach North Korean Refugees.” The non-profit private organization was first established in 2013 to teach English to North Korean refugees.

TNKR’s headquarters are based in Itaewon, Seoul. The organization’s main function is to connect refugees with native English speakers.

The co-founder of TNKR is Casey Lartigue. He studied education at Harvard and later became a human rights activist.

Mr. Lartigue told the VOA the story of how his organization was established.

In 2013, he heard Lee Hyun-seo’s speech at TED, and was deeply moved. Lee was one of the first North Korean refugees to talk about the horrifying human rights situation in the DPRK on the international stage.

Mr. Lartigue took part in the 2012 hunger-strike aimed at stopping the Chinese government from forcibly sending North Korean defectors back to the DPRK. Professor Park Sun-young, a former member of the ROK national assembly, was also at the protest. She later invited Mr. Lartigue to work with the Mulmangcho (a flower, meaning “forget-me-not”) School where Professor Park Sun-young was the director of the board.

He met Lee Eunkoo, a North Korean Studies researcher. After several long discussions, they established the TNKR organization.

Mr. Lartigue explained what they do at TNKR.

“In South Korea, if you cannot understand at least… if you cannot achieve English at a certain level, then it’s hard to get a job.”

He said it’s hard to get a job in South Korea if one does not speak sufficient English, so learning English allows the refugees to empower themselves here.

There are currently 180 North Korean refugees learning English through TNKR. They are all taught by volunteer teachers in one-on-one sessions.

There are 300 volunteer teachers in the organization, and each student meets with 3 teachers on average. However, they can learn from as many teachers as they choose.

Park Yeon-mi studied hard for 8 months, learning from 18 volunteer teachers.

Mr. Lartigue says the key to the NGO’s success is to let the students choose their own teachers from a pool of volunteers. This is because each teacher’s strengths vary between grammar, speaking, being inspirational, etc.

The organization reduces the burden on each volunteer, and provides a network of social bonds to the refugees.

Mr. Lartigue explained the TNKR method of checking the history and expertise of each volunteer before introducing them to the refugees.

“…to decide their own way of studying. Track 1 is called finding my own way, so we don’t tell them what they should study.”

According to him, Track 1 consists of two parts – conversational speaking and public speaking.

Ken Eom, 35, defected from the DPRK in 2010. He is currently working at a publishing house in ROK, and has been studying with TNKR tutors since last March.

Ken told the VOA that Track 2 classes have been especially helpful.

“The Track 2 course begins with speaking to the audience about my own story. Public speaking is fundamentally different from general conversation, so I learned a lot of new vocabulary and sentence structures. I also benefited greatly from learning how to speak to real people,” said Ken.

Ken said he met with teachers from all around the world – from Australia, the U.S., and New Zealand.

Another refugee we interviewed, Sharon, is turning 25 this year. She found out about TNKR through an online social network and joined the organization last March. It has now been 6 months, and she says that not only has her English improved, but she is far more confident when speaking in front of a crowd. For her, she says, this was the biggest gain.

“Confidence is what I got from taking these classes. I was very much self-conscious about my English pronunciation, and that made me nervous and hindered my performance. Also, I hadn’t been in South Korea for that long, and I didn’t talk much, not even with Koreans. Now, I guess I am a lot more confident.”

Sharon said she had been on the wait-list for 3 months, but it was very much worth the wait. “We can choose our own teacher, our own time and place to learn English, so it is a great opportunity to get better if you try.”

Right now there are about 50 refugees on the wait-list to learn English with TNKR. Among those names, top priority students who are connected with teachers first are orphans, victims of human trafficking, and persons under the age of 25.

“Knowledge is power,” Mr. Lartigue says to encourage the refugees. “If you want to influence others, grab the opportunity to learn.” For some of the refugees, he said, it was the first time they ever received a proper education. He feels sad that the DPRK does not provide education for all.

TNKR activities rely solely on private donations. Mr. Lartigue expressed his gratitude to the volunteers who work for free. He adds that the reason he and others do not give up on helping refugees is because they know how important it is.

Translation by Lee Soohyun
Edited by Ashley-Nicole Harrison



  • 6 hours of in-house tutoring yesterday by two different tutors.
  • We had three international tutors stop by the office, as part of an initiative started by Rorry and Maaike. We already scored our first coupon for the Christmas Party on December 18! Good job, Alexia! Another international student donated to TNKR, another translated our Indiegogo campaign into a foreign language, leading to another donation.
  • TNKR was featured on Voice of America


IMG_7133 IMG_7141 IMG_7146



IMG_7163 IMG_7170


  • What an honor! My delightful former co-host and colleague Yeonmi Park stopped by the TNKR office to say hello! For a while, I was seeing her almost every day when we worked together in 2014, but I guess I have only seen her three or four times this entire year. She is now an international speaker and human rights advocate, but before that, she was my TV podcast co-host, ambassador to TNKR, and colleague at Freedom Factory. Thankfully, she is still a great friend.^^
  • After spending the early afternoon at the office, I met with international students to prepare for upcoming TNKR events. We had the meeting at the law firm that will be hosting our Christmas party on December 18.
  • 6 hours of in-house tutoring plus planning to add additional features to the program.

12 5 IMG_7052 IMG_7055 IMG_7061 IMG_7071 IMG_7081 IMG_7082 IMG_7084



On November 16, I spoke at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Fletcher School for Diplomacy at Tufts University.

IMG_6430 IMG_6434 IMG_6435 IMG_6475 IMG_6480 IMG_6481

1 2 3 IMG_6489 IMG_6490 IMG_6493

  • The highlight of the Atlas Network Liberty Forum and Dinner was Yeonmi Park’s book signing. She quickly had a long line, then her books sold out because the people buying them were buying four and five at a time.
  • I had already paid for 10 more copies but they had sold out before I had a chance to claim the books. No kidding, when it was my turn, there was only one book left. I did the next guy in line a favor by allowing him to get a signed copy.
  • I felt like a proud big brother seeing her at the book signing, taking photos of her with the people eager to meet her, get their books signed, and to talk to her and tell her how inspired they were by her story. Last year Yeonmi and I worked together closely on our TV podcast, publicizing TNKR, and getting her prepared for the moment the world would call her to speak. I knew from February of last year that she would be known all over the world speaking out about North Korea, human rights, and telling her story, and today I was able to see it in action!
  • 1 2 3 4 5
  • Wanna know how good TNKR is? Even great people at Columbia University believe it is great. Teach North Korean Refugees is now being analyzed by graduate students at The Teachers College, Columbia University as part of a case study. TNKR wasn’t even an official organization until May 2015, but we have already had many great things happen. With both the professor and students in the class analyzing us–yes, asking some pointed questions, too–then TNKR should be even stronger in 2016 in helping refugees find their way and tell their stories.
  • Have you ever told someone that you were honored by something they were doing, and they try to convince you that they are even more honored to collaborate with you! That’s what happened tonight with the professor at Columbia University who opened her classroom to me.  She and the students were asking me plenty of pointed questions about TNKR. Based on their responses, I was giving them some unorthodox answers!
  • I take it as a good sign that both the Teachers College at Columbia University and that professors and students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education also want to know about TNKR.
  • Anyone who reads my column knows that I am easily bored by talkers who don’t get to action items. Often I get questions that are pointless or irrelevant, based on the questioner’s pre-conceptions that have nothing to do with TNKR (or what I might have just said in a speech).  But the Teachers College students were asking questions that were connected to actual suggestions, rather than just curiosity or accusations.1 2 3 4 5 IMG_6294 IMG_6298 IMG_6300 IMG_6302 IMG_6307

(서울=연합뉴스) 이봉석 기자 = 남한으로 넘어온 탈북자들에게 무료로 영어를 가르쳐주는 프로그램이 있다.

한국에 거주하는 미국인 케이시 라티그 씨가 한국인 이은구(36) 씨와 함께 만든 ‘TNKR'(Teach for North Korean Refugees)가 그것이다.

오래전부터 북한 인권에 관심이 많았다는 라티그씨는 탈북자들을 도울 일이 뭐가 있을까 함께 고민하던 중 이씨와 의기투합해 이 프로그램을 만들게 됐다.

이 프로그램은 일반적인 영어학원과 달리 영어를 배우고자 하는 탈북자와 영어를 가르치고자 하는 자원봉사자를 연결해 주는 방식으로 운영된다. 또 자원봉사자가 탈북자 한 명을 1대1로 지도하는 것이 원칙이다.

탈북자와 자원봉사자는 정기적으로 열리는 ‘매칭 데이’를 통해 상대방을 고를 수 있다. 서로 신뢰를 쌓고 학습 효율을 높이기 위한 목적이다.

라티그 씨는 탈북자 학생과 자원봉사자를 주로 페이스북과 카카오톡 같은 SNS를 통해 모집한다.

입소문이 나면서 현재 약 180명의 탈북자가 이 프로그램을 통해 영어를 배우고 있다. 대기 중인 탈북자는 수십 명이고 자원봉사자는 이보다 더 많은 약 280명이다.

라티그 씨는 “영어를 배움으로써 남한 생활에 한층 쉽게 적응하고 더 나은 직업을 찾고자 하는 탈북자들의 문의가 계속 늘고 있다”고 귀띔했다.

실제로 지난해 통일부가 탈북자 1만2천 여명을 대상으로 설문조사를 벌인 결과 40%가 넘는 응답자가 ‘외래어로 인한 의사소통’을 어려움으로 꼽았다.

라티그 씨는 탈북자들이 무대와 영어에 대한 공포를 한꺼번에 해소할 수 있도록 영어 웅변대회도 정기적으로 연다.

그는 “지난해 국제무대에서 북한의 인권 실상을 폭로해 유명해진 탈북자 박연미 씨 등이 이 프로그램을 통해 영어를 배웠다”고 소개했다.

강의가 영어에만 국한된 것도 아니다. 예를 들어 변호사를 꿈꾸는 탈북자가 있으면 법학용어 이해에 도움이 되는 라틴어도 배울 수 있도록 돕는다.

이태원에 위치한 사무실 임대료 등 필요한 경비는 후원을 받아 충당하고 있다고 한다.

라티그 씨는 현재 한국의 시민단체 프리덤 팩토리의 국제협력실장과 탈북자학교인 물망초학교의 국제협력자문위원을 맡고 있다.




We have had 190 refugees enter TNKR since we began in March 2013. We now have 50 refugees on the waiting list to join the program. So we began in-house tutoring to help those refugees on on the waiting list to study English before joining an English Matching session.

We now have a waiting list for the in-house tutoring program. Later, we will sign up more tutors, but first we need the first tutors in our program to help us design it well.

The newest student was really eager to meet me! I am always pleased when they already know who I am.^^

IMG_4915 IMG_4916 IMG_4918 IMG_4920 IMG_4921

Teach North Korean Refugees Ambassador Sharon spoke earlier today at Sungkyungkwon University. We have suddenly had several speaking opportunities, arranged by volunteers in TNKR.

  • Dead men can ask questions: Sharon spoke in Korean today, so it meant she could tell her story in more detail. A few of the students remarked that it was the first time they had concentrated that hard in class. The students, a mix of international and South Koreans, had many questions during Q&A. Korean students are known for being bumps-on-a-log during Q&A, but they had many questions today. That means: If you present something interesting or different, even Korean students can rise from the dead…
  • Click your heels three times: So often people ask me how they can help. I count to 10 before answering. Then I meet others who just do it. They read, listen, observe, then come up with something to do. Today’s event was set up by international students who visited my office last month. Rorry and Maaike set up the event, the first of two, by finding professors willing to accept us (many think the words “North Korea” are automatically political and avoid anything to do with it). So many people want to save the world, looking for the BIG THING that requires the UN to get involved, rather than doing what they can do with the resources they have.  Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something. These days, when people ask what they do, I tell them to pretend they are Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz–click your heels three times, the power is within you…
  • They laughed, they cried… Last week, the translator cried during Sharon’s speech. Today, Ingue Chun almost had the crowd in tears, with his humorous translation performance. I won’t mention details, to protect his reputation as a translator.^^
Rorry adds:

So happy and proud to have finally brought TNKR to SKKU to educate & raise awareness among the students with Maaike‘s valuable contribution. Big thanks to our professor Lee for the generous donation & being a kind host. I can’t wait for the next two events of TNKR involving international students and SKKU!

PS: if you are interested in volunteering, come to our open house event for international students next Thursday, 8pm, Itaewon smile emoticon

Thank you Casey Lartigue for your support and this well written post. Thank you Sharon for your informative and interesting speech. Thank you Ingue for your entertaining translation. & last but not least. Thank you Maaike for being a lovely and committed team partner!

 Ingue Chun writes:

This day was a good day with Casey Lartigue Sharon Jang Rorry Ambers Late and Maaike. We helped raise awareness of the hardships North Korean Refugees go through to young Korean students.
Big shout out to all who helped organize and I thank them for having me! ^^

1 2 3 4 5 6 IMG_4821 IMG_4829 IMG_4830 IMG_4835 IMG_4847 IMG_4849 IMG_4864 IMG_4869 IMG_4870 IMG_4873 IMG_4876 IMG_4886 IMG_4891 IMG_4894 IMG_4896 IMG_4898

It is true, TNKR is all-volunteer! Eunkoo Lee and I have jobs with other organizations. However, TNKR has taken over our lives. it seems we are doing something about TNKR 7 days a week, and some weeks it seems to be 8 days a week!

This past weekend:

Saturday 10/24
noon, meeting with Mulmangcho staffer
1:30 pm Tutors tips session (7 tutors)
2:00 pm Matching session (10 refugees, 17 tutors)
5:00 pm dinner and discussion with tutors and refugees
7:00 review and discuss

Sunday 10/25
12:30 pm, orientation with 2 tutors
3 pm, play featuring NK refugee

IMG_4762 IMG_4763 IMG_4770 IMG_4772 IMG_4775 IMG_4777 IMG_4781 IMG_4782