So cool. I’m featured in the Anniversary Edition of KCrush magazine. Thanks to JeeHyo Jeong for interviewing me, and letting me say what I think, in my own words.

View the PDF here

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One of the refugees studying in Teach North Korean Refugees dropped by our office today to chat. She has studied in a number of programs, she wanted to let us know that this has been the most effective of all for her. The main reason is the individualized attention she receives from tutors.

In particular, she appreciates that she can choose her tutors and is so thankful that so many volunteers want to help North Korean refugees. When she first joined TNKR, she was surprised that she could choose. It took some time for her to realize that the tutors were really focused on her, that it was up to her to determine what she wanted to study, that she feels “respected” that she is allowed to choose. It was one of those “pick me up” moments that anyone who has created something can really appreciate.

 

I have messaged with Owen Lau of 脫北者關注組 North Korean Defectors Concern for at least 2 years, but today was the first time for us to meet in person. He has a wonderful volunteer group based in Hong Kong. Despite lacking resources, his organization gets things done.
NKDC will be hosting a film festival in Hong Kong highlighting movies about North Koreans from (Augut 8-10 or so).

TNKR Testimonials

Support TNKR

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One of the refugees studying in Teach North Korean Refugees dropped by our office today to chat. She has studied in a number of programs, she wanted to let us know that this has been the most effective of all for her. The main reason is the individualized attention she receives from tutors.

In particular, she appreciates that she can choose her tutors and is so thankful that so many volunteers want to help North Korean refugees. When she first joined TNKR, she was surprised that she could choose. It took some time for her to realize that the tutors were really focused on her, that it was up to her to determine what she wanted to study, that she feels “respected” that she is allowed to choose. It was one of those “pick me up” moments that anyone who has created something can really appreciate.

More TNKR testimonials

Support TNKR

Read more

Hard to believe that I have known Hooyeon Kimmy for five years. We met shortly after I first returned to South Korea. She was then a reporter on the Ewha Voice, she invited me to give a speech to the reporters.
Now she is working as a professional journalist with a bright future ahead of her. She thanks me for giving her a lot of advice over the years. It just so happens that she is a great listener and I have a lot to say, so at some point, I may have accidentally shared some wisdom with her.^^

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We have had so many nice people ask how they can join the Teach North Korean Refugees project. On July 25, 2015, the co-founders of TNKR will be meeting with interested volunteers who would like to find out about what we are doing, would like to brainstorm ways to get involved in non-teaching activities, or would like to join Track 2 of our project.

Meeting Agenda

  1. Self-introductions
  2. What is TNKR
    1. Track 1: “Finding My Own Way.”
    2. Track 2: “Telling My Own Story.”
    3. Overseas studies
    4. Speech contest
  3. English Speech Contest
  4. Ways to help
  5. Track 2 Orientation

A few notes:
–Please don’t show up expecting to be assigned tasks, come with your thinking cap on, use your brain to find your own role. We will be brainstorming, not handing out assignments.
–We know that no matter what time we schedule this that some people won’t be able to make it.
–Make sure your phone is charged. Call the office number 070-4006-0942 in case you get lost.
–If you are late then please don’t join..

Directions
* National Assembly Station on subway line 9. 국회의사당역https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Assembly_Station
* From exit 3 or 2, make a U-turn.
* Then walk between the KB bank buildings.
* As you reach the street it will be the building slightly to the right, 성우빌딩 is the name of the building. Room 805
* It isn’t difficult, after leaving the subway, it will take less than a minute. For those who get lost, the office number is 070-4115-9600
서울특별시 영등포구 국회대로66길 17, 805호(여의도동, 성우빌딩)
Note: Please take the 일반 (regular) train and NOT the 급행 (express) train on Line 9. The Express train passes 국회의사당 station.

Some relevant links
TNKR Website
Teach North Korean Refugees Facebook pages
(page)
(group)

Al Jazeera report (English)

MBC News report (in Korean)

JoongAng Ilbo feature on TNKR (in English)

Joongang Ilbo feature on TNKR (in Korean)

Profile of Casey Lartigue, TNKR co-founder (in English)


2015-07-25 Orientation

Teach North Korean Refugees began in March 2013 when co-founders Lee Eunkoo and Casey Lartigue matched several former teachers in North Korea with English teachers in South Korea. More than 2 years later, we have now matched more than 270 tutors with about 170 North Korean refugees. Yesterday we held our 32nd session.

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Drafted

One of the tutors mentioned yesterday that she could understand what athletes go through when they are drafted by a sports team, waiting, wondering if their names will be called. Of the 270 or so volunteer tutors who have come to us, only two have not gotten selected. We try to balance the numbers so the refugees get as many choices as possible but so that the tutors also get selected. Yesterday was tough because one refugee informed us last week that she could not attend and another refugee canceled in the morning.

That’s one reason we are so delighted when tutors return. They have been through the process at least once, and they are willing to come back.

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Donations

TNKR is a small NGO that relies on private donations. We have wanted to pay for the study sessions but obviously haven’t had enough money. Thanks to Bashir Mohamed, we have raised money to subsidize study sessions for three refugees. New TNKR tutor Emma Foster has also set up a fund-raising page to subsidize study sessions with her students. Hopefully enough tutors (and perhaps even refugees) will do this.

I will be delighted if all of the tutors tried to raise money, then they will see that it is not easy…

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Debriefing

At the end of each session I like to hear what the tutors and refugees think. The refugees who joined us for a late lunch/early dinner expressed heartfelt thanks to the tutors and promised they would do their best. One refugee said he could not “let this chance go,” another said she will do her best, asked the teachers to be gentle with her because she is still a basic learner. Another refugee said that he was happy because, in looking through the resumes, he had already decided on the four teachers that he wanted, and he got all four. He said his feeling “was so high.”

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Volunteers

At yesterday’s session:
6 refugees
12 volunteer tutors
3 high school volunteers
1 researcher
1 reporter
2 co-directors

They all showed up despite the Mudfestival being held the same day…

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Always changing

A few people have recently asked me how TNKR differs from other programs helping NK refugees improve their English. The short answer: “I don’t know.” I haven’t paid attention to what others are doing. We never benchmarked other programs, we have always been doing what we thought made sense.

This program is even different from what it was a year ago. The same may be true of other programs, so I would hesitate to comment about what I may have heard two years ago about another program.

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Next

Eunkoo and I met after everyone else had left to review the session and to consider changes we can make for the future.

* She messaged the refugees
* We confirmed that tutors and refugees were all matched, then confirmed they had made their first appointments.
* I messaged the tutors to confirm they were aware of where to submit to online reports, how to make reports about their classes through Kakao, and a few other details.

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DSCN0441 Read more

We have a number of volunteers and fans raising money for TNKR!

Christina Han, Christina’s Fund for TNKR

Kat Faller, Kat’s TNKR Fund

Renee Kardell, TNKR tutor, “Run for TNKR”

Sheila Meaney, TNKR tutor, Teach North Korean Refugees

Ashley and Michael, TNKR tutor, Help Us Teach North Korean Refugees

Jeff Wilkins, TNKR tutor, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR)

Shania Au, TNKR tutor, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR)

* * *

Thanks for your donations!!!

Sean Massenburg, “Running for TNKR”

Bashir Mohamed, “Riding Across Alberta for Refugees

James Maxwell Milne, “NK Refugee Speech Program for TNKR”

Bridget Graham, “Teach North Korean Refugees”

Chanmi Lee, “Teaching North Korean Refugees”

Amber Miller, TNKR tutor, Teach North Korean Refugees

Eli DiSante Hoerler, “Teaching North Korean Refugees”

Lisa Young, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR)

Dylan Joseph, “Teaching North Korean Refugees”

Jessie Behrman, TNKR tutor, Help Me TNKR

Indiegogo

* * *

Every donation really helps.

1) Every donation lets others who donate to us know that we have support.
2) It encourages our volunteers.
3) It will help us build a budget.

Casey Lartigue was a featured speaker at the World Conference on Market Liberalization, held from June 28 to July 4, on Bali, Indonesia.

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Vue front-north-korea

 

“Since the 1950s, about 27 000 [North Korean refugees] have come [to South Korea]”, says NGO Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) co-founder Casey Lartigue. “Most of them have come in the last 15 years.

“When the Soviet Union collapsed, the North Korean economy also began to collapse,” Lartigue continues.  “Then you have the famines of the mid-1990s. Some of the guards themselves were trying to escape.”

According to Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, 100 000 to 300  000 North Koreans have defected to other countries, with the majority hiding in Russia and China.

One of TNKR’s learners, Ken (who prefers the use of his first name only for this article) was in the North Korean military for 10 years.

“The most difficult thing is hunger,” Ken says. “The North Korean soldiers [did not] always get enough food.”

Although he is still working on his English, Ken exudes animated confidence as he tells his story. He is one of 15 Track Two learners at TNKR, which Lartigue explains is for “those refugees who are interested in public speaking,” whether it be to deliver work presentations or to speak out on North Korean issues.

Ken had to move to North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, for military service. Soldiers were not allowed to contact family by telephone, only by letter.

“But letter must be checked,” Ken adds. “There is no Internet in North Korea.”

After finishing military service, Ken returned home to find that his brother and mother were missing. Three weeks later, he received news that his family had defected to South Korea.

“I was really shocked. Even though my family had defected, I just continued to look for a job and tried to stay in North Korea,” Ken recalls. “But I couldn’t.”

This was the kind of punishment that the government had for family members of North Korean defectors.

“Even if I stayed, after six months maybe a public servant from the North Korean government would be watching me, so I decided [to leave],” he says. “[The North Korean government] watches everybody … but especially someone who [has] a relative who is a defector.”

Three months following military service, Ken embarked on a four-day journey to South Korea, via Laos and Thailand, with the help of a broker. Without a passport, he had to cross the border illegally.

“[The journey was] dangerous. [I] swim in the Amnok River,” Ken says of the first challenge of crossing the border between North Korea and China. “It took 15 minutes to cross, but it felt like 15 hours. It was as if a thousand needles were going through me!”

Eventually, Ken reached the South Korean embassy in Thailand, where he received a South Korean passport and was able to take a plane to South Korea. Like many others, Ken went through culture shock as he learned to adjust living in a “totally different social system.”

“North Korean people were provided food and some money by [the] government, but in South Korea, we have to make money ourselves,” he says.

However, because everyone was paid so little in their jobs in North Korea, Ken now considers it more like volunteer work rather than an actual job.

TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee says one challenge that North Koreans face in South Korea is employment. Employers have a capitalistic expectation of employees, which is, “they should be more active without orders from the boss.”

“[There is] difficulty of finding a job for South Korean people, but North Korean people [face] more difficulties, because South Korean people [are] influenced by the media—like North Korea is terrible country or they are [the] enemy kind of thing,” Lee says.

Ken also had preconceived notions of South Koreans.

“When I entered the South Korean embassy, there were some people who treat me very kind. I’m very [suspicious] … maybe they try to get information out of me,” Ken admits. “When I went to church [for the] first time, many people [were] being friendly. I thought maybe they’re working undercover as a spy for the government.”

Sharon Jang, another TNKR North Korean learner, shares what life in North Korea was like, with the help of a translator.

“The first cellphone came out in 2010 or 2011,” she recalls. “At that time, pagers began to emerge, but they cost 3M won [$4100 CAD.]

“Most North Koreans have TVs, but they are large monitors,” adds Jang, who has been in South Korea for three years. “The poor have black and white while the rich can get colour TV.”

“The hardest part was working in the coal mines,” she says of the 15-hour workdays, which consisted of transferring 30 bags of coal weighing 40 kilos each.

The actual take-home pay was only 1000 won [$1.37 CAD] per month after taking other fees into account.

In November 2011, Jang began her escape from North Korea by going to a different city for 13 days with no pass. In North Korea, a special pass is required when visiting other jurisdictions, so Jang was in special danger of being caught, on top of the drug activity that surrounded her.

After crossing the Tumen River, another river that divides North Korea from China, a broker obtained by her mother, which cost 7M won [$9500 CAD], assisted her. She then spent two months travelling through China and Laos before making her way to the South Korean embassy in Thailand. Shortly after, she arrived in South Korea and discovered her mother—who had escaped to South Korea when Jang was 14—had a new husband as well as a new son.

“It was challenging for me to adjust to a new family. I had not seen my mom in 10 years,” Jang recalls.

Jang still has family back home, but she has sent money to them only once, as it is a complicated process that involves three different brokers from China, South Korea and North Korea.

When asked if she considers herself North Korean, South Korean or simply Korean, Jang responds, “At first, I was confused. But now I don’t think it’s important where I came from—I consider myself a South Korean citizen living in South Korea.”

For more information about TNKR, visit teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org.