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2018-01-10 VOA report about TNKR, in English and Korean


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




[특파원 리포트] ‘탈북민에 무료 영어교육’ 단체, 올해 미 NGO 등록

지난 2013년 설립된 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)의 공동설립자 케이시 라티그 대표가 VOA 서울 특파원과 인터뷰하고 있다.

지난 2013년 설립된 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)의 공동설립자 케이시 라티그 대표가 VOA 서울 특파원과 인터뷰하고 있다.

탈북민들에게 무료로 영어를 가르치는 서울의 한 단체가 관심을 끌고 있습니다. 지난 2013년 설립된 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)를 거쳐간 탈북민이 현재 320명을 넘었습니다. 서울의 김현진 특파원이 취재했습니다.

[녹취: 미국인 선생님과 탈북민 영어 강습]

서울 마포의 작은 건물에 자리잡은 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR). 15평 남짓한 좁은 방에서 40대 탈북 여성이 미국인 선생님으로부터 1:1 영어교육을 받고 있습니다.

아직 숫자를 영어로 배우는 수준이지만, 원어민 선생님의 설명을 잘 듣고 따라합니다.

지난 2013년 3월 설립된 이 단체의 영어 약자인 TNKR은 ‘Teach North Korean Refugees.’ 북한 난민을 가르친다는 뜻으로, 지금까지 320여명이 이 단체에서 영어를 배웠습니다.

이 단체 공동설립자인 미국인 케이시 라티그 대표입니다.

[녹취: 케이시 대표] “Can you explain yourself in Korean? 아니요, 잘못해요….”

미국의 명문 하버드대학 출신인 라티그 대표는 한국말로 자기소개를 부탁하는 기자에게, 서툴다며 영어로 소개를 이어갑니다.

[녹취: 케이시 대표] “I’m an American living in South Korea, I’m a co-director at TNKR. I do a couple of other things….”

라티그 대표는 `코리아 타임스’ 신문에 글을 기고하고, 서울의 대학에서 강의도 하지만 탈북민들이 영어 의사소통 능력을 키워 꿈을 이룰 수 있도록 도울 때가 가장 행복하다고 말했습니다.

라티그 대표와 함께 TNKR의 공동설립자인 이은구 대표는 이 단체의 영어 프로그램을 이렇게 설명합니다.

[녹취: 이은구 대표] “TNKR의 영어교육 프로그램은 크게 두 가지가 있는데요, 영어를 하나도 모르는 탈북민들을 위해 알파벳부터 기초영어, 문법 어휘, 발음을 교육하는 수업과 글쓰기, 대중연설, 프리젠테이션 코칭을 원하는 학생을 위한 프로그램이 있습니다.”

TNKR은 자원봉사자 선생님과 학생 한두 명으로 시작했지만 입소문을 통해 탈북민들에게 널리 알려지면서 지금은 이 곳에서 영어를 배우려면 순서를 기다려야 합니다.

라티그 대표는 영어를 배우기 위해 한국 전역에서 탈북자들이 모여들고 있다고 말합니다.

[녹취: 라티그 대표] “She lives in Daegu, she didn’t go back to Daegu until she had a chance… We had a student from Busan…”

대구, 부산에 사는 학생들도 영어를 배우기 위해 서울에 올라와 몇 달을 지내다가 돌아간다는 설명입니다.

라티그 대표에 따르면 현재 대기자 수만 100여 명. 교육을 받고 싶은 탈북자는 온라인을 통해 신청서를 작성하고 인터뷰를 해야 합니다.

[녹취: 탈북 방송인 김가영 씨 인터뷰 NAT SOUND] “케이시: Why do you want to join TNKR? 가영씨: 영어를 배우고 싶어서…”

2013년 탈북해 ‘모란봉 클럽’이란 텔레비전 프로에 출연하고 있는 방송인 김가영 씨도 대기자 가운데 한 명입니다.

[녹취: 탈북 방송인 김가영 씨 인터뷰 NAT SOUND] “제가 외국에 많이 나가서 활동을 하게 되는데요, 전혀 대화가 안되니까, 일단은 먼저 초보라서 배우고 싶은데 가능한지 몰라서. 초보도 배울 수 있는지 궁금해요…”

TNKR에서 영어를 배운 탈북자 가운데 일부는 유창한 영어로 국제무대에서 북한의 인권 실상을 알리고 있습니다. 세계적으로 알려진 강연 사이트 TED 에서 연설하는 탈북 여성 박연미 씨입니다.

[녹취: 박연미 씨 TED 강연]

꽃제비 출신으로 15살 때 탈북해 영국 외교부 장학금으로 공부해 석사 학위를 받은 이성주 씨도 이 단체에서 영어를 배웠습니다.

라티그 대표는 기억에 남는 학생이 누군지 묻는 질문에 신이 나서 말을 이어갑니다.

[녹취: 라티그 대표] “Sheri, she came to South Korea Jan 2015, and she wanted to meet me, after I explained our program, she stayed in Korea….”

태국을 통해 미국에 입국해 시민권을 받은 탈북민 쉐리 씨는 미국에서 2년제 대학에 진학했지만, 영어가 되지 않아 대학을 마치지 못하고 식당 일을 전전해야 했습니다. 하지만 TNKR의 도움으로 영어에 자신감을 얻은 뒤 테드에서 강연을 할 정도로 실력이 향상됐다는 설명입니다.

미국 조지타운대학 법대생으로 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)에서 자원봉사자로 영어를 가르치는 권영민 씨.

미국 조지타운대학 법대생으로 북한이탈주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)에서 자원봉사자로 영어를 가르치는 권영민 씨.

이 같은 성과 뒤에는 자원봉사자 선생님들의 땀과 노력이 있었습니다. 지금까지 이 단체에서 영어를 가르친 자원봉사 교사는 무려 700여명에 달합니다.

미국 조지타운대학 법대생으로 현재 휴학 중인 권영민 씨도 그 중 한 명입니다.

[녹취: 자원봉사 영어교사 권영민] “Doing such a basic thing as helping refugee by using my language skill which is privilege…”

자신의 언어 능력을 활용해 난민을 도울 수 있다는 게 너무 특권이고 감사하다는 겁니다.

이날 첫 수업을 한다는 미국인 알레스 히키 씨는 탈북민들에게 작은 도움이나마 되고 싶다고 말했습니다.

[녹취: 알렉스 힉키] “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…”

중국을 통해 라오스나 태국을 거쳐 자유를 찾아 한국에 온 탈북민들은 세계 누구보다 도움이 필요한 사람들이며, 이들을 돕고 싶다는 겁니다.

TNKR은 탈북자들을 위한 영어교육뿐 아니라 국제사회에 북한인권 문제를 알리는데도 적극 나서고 있습니다.

[녹취: TNKR Global leadership forum 5th ]

“Welcome you all. Today TNKR’s 5th Global Leadership forum…..”

지난 6일 탈북자들이 TNKR이 주최한 북한 인권문제 포럼에서 증언하고 있다. 왼쪽부터, 지난 11월 아내와 아들이 북송된 이태원 씨, 탈북 작가 지현아 씨, KAL기 납치피해자 송환을 위한 대책협의회 황인철 대표.

지난 6일 탈북자들이 TNKR이 주최한 북한 인권문제 포럼에서 증언하고 있다. 왼쪽부터, 지난 11월 아내와 아들이 북송된 이태원 씨, 탈북 작가 지현아 씨, KAL기 납치피해자 송환을 위한 대책협의회 황인철 대표.

지난 6일에는 아내와 아들이 지난 11월 중국에서 북한으로 송환된 이태원 씨와 탈북 작가 지현아 씨, KAL기 납치피해자 송환을 위한 대책협의회 황인철 대표의 사연을 알리고 국제사회의 도움을 호소하는 포럼을 열기도 했습니다.

라티그 씨에 따르면 한국 내 비영리단체로 등록돼 있는 TNKR은 현재 미국 버지니아에 NGO로 등록하는 절차를 진행하고 있습니다.

[녹취: 라티그 대표] “We are now setting up to get the 501c(3) status in the US also…”

버지니아 주는 미국인 이 해외에 설립한 NGO도 인정해주고 있다며, 등록이 완료되면 미국인들로부터 기부를 받을 수 있게 된다는 설명입니다.

라티그 씨는 탈북민들을 도울 수 있다는 게 너무 기쁘다며, 올해도 탈북민들을 도우며 의미있고 즐겁게 살고 싶다고 말했습니다.

[녹취: 라티그 대표] “To remain fun and to be able to help more North Korean refugees.”

VOA 뉴스 김현진입니다.


English Speech Contest #7

Teach North Korean Refugees will be holding its 7th English speech contest on February 24, 2018 from 2 pm at the Kim and Shin law firm near Myeongdong station (line 4).

7 North Korean refugees have been selected to give speeches in English.

Each speaker will have up to 10 minutes, addressing the theme, “My ‘Little Big’ Heroes.” Refugees applied for the contest by submitting short videos explaining their speeches. They are planning to discuss their ‘little big heroes’ they knew in North Korea, or met while they were escaping through or living in China, or special people they have met as they settled down in South Korea or other countries.

The speeches are moving and promise to open your eyes up to the struggles, experiences and challenges facing North Korean refugees. You will see even small support from people from around the world can encourage them as they make their way in the world outside of North Korea.

To join this uplifting event, see the payment details below:


Payment option 1: Eventbrite

Volunteers, donors and fundraisers: $10, bring one friend for free.

General admission: $15


Payment option 2: Bank transfer

Volunteers, donors and fundraisers: 10,000 won, bring one friend for free.

General admission: 15,000 won

-Bank account: (Woori Bank) 1005-802-774890

-Name on account: 티엔케이알(TNKR)

Email CJL@alumni.harvard.edu to have your RSVP confirmed


Payment option 3: PayPal 

Volunteers, donors and fundraisers: $12, bring one friend for free

General admission: $17 at Paypal https://www.paypal.me/loveTNKR


Support this contest by making a donation to our “Matching donationopportunity.

Previous speech contest winners:

Contest 1, February 28, 2015: Sungju Lee, author of the memoir, “Every Falling Star.”

Contest 2, August 22, 2015: Sehyek Oh, North Korean refugee activist

Contest 3, February 27, 2016: Eunsun Kim, author of “A Thousand Miles to Freedom.”

Contest 4, August 20, 2016: Chulman Choi, entrepreneur

Contest 5, February 25, 2017: Cherie Yang, TV personality

Contest 6, August 26, 2017: Youngmi Park, college student

Contest 7, February 24, 2018: ?


Step by step directions:


(Myeongdong exit 4, walk straight about two minutes, State Tower (Namsan) will be on your left.

English map


Korean map



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2018-01-13 Eben Notes: “What a Wonderful Night”

Eben Appleton wrote: It was a special night for Teach North Korean Refugees, TNKR, when TNKR fans Sandra Durnick and Amanda Sheffy hosted a fundraiser for the all-volunteer group at the Hidden Cellar located in Seoul, Korea.

That’s what happens when a community rallies around a group and supports their humble project of helping North Korean refugees by teaching them English.

TNKR depends solely on fundraisers in order to continue their English teaching program. How much was donated? Over 1 million won! An additional amount of 340,000 won, was won in a final raffle by TNKR Academic Coordinator, Janice Kim. After winning, she immediately donated the money to the fundraiser. TNKR Co-founder, Casey Lartigue Jr., pulled the final raffle ticket and was pleasantly surprised by her donation. Thank you Janice Kim!

Director Lartigue felt he should have said more about TNKR during the party fundraiser, but instead spent the entire evening appreciatively thanking those many who were in attendance.

Personally, I wish I had been there to see the excitement of my many friends at TNKR. I realize the fundraiser will help them to sustain their amazing organization for another year.

Tomorrow will be a busy, back to the old grind, kind of day at the office. I am certain those at TNKR are still “walking on air” from the night before.

Congratulations, dear friends, and thanks to all supporters who know a good thing when they see it.

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2018-01-13 What a Beautiful Night: TNKR fundraiser by Sandra and Amanda

One of TNKR’s underlying goals is to build a community of support around North Korean refugees. We do this by connecting them with volunteer tutors and coaches.

What happens when a community rallies around TNKR? That’s what it felt like at the Hidden Cellar when TNKR fans Sandra Durinick and Amanda Sheffy hosted a fundraiser for us last night. They rounded up a team that included Samantha Murphy, Kim Noriko Durinick, Jamila Charles, Reza Carr, Jay Wiltz, Hannah Ruppert, Renee Dupuis, Tom Moran, Jamie Kembrey, 송인환 and Hyeona Hong. (Thanks to Kim Noriko Durinick for adding the names.)

I should have said more about TNKR, but my entire speech was thanking everyone. TNKR volunteers, our new fans, everyone rallying around our humble project helping North Korean refugees.

It was a special night in TNKR history, one that we will never forget. In all, the team raised more than 1 million won. It was our special night, because we won an additional 340,000 won in a final raffle—I pulled the number of TNKR Academic Coordinator Janice Kim. She promptly donated the money—I can’t promise that I would have donated it if I had pulled my own number!

Today we were back to the grindstone, holding two orientation sessions for incoming tutors and students. It was tough, doing this on a Sunday, after working at TNKR for every day so far this year. But we were all walking on air after last night’s wonderful fundraiser.

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2018-01-12 Feedback and Speaking Out

Friday was a busy day!

* TNKR Senior Fellow Tony Docan-Morgan held 1:1 feedback sessions with coaches in Track 2 (public speaking).

* TNKR Ambassador Eunhee Park gave a fantastic talk at a private event at our office.

Support TNKR 

*** Read more

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TNKR’s Million Won Fundraising Club

TNKR’s Million Won Fundraising Club


Cherie Yang, Special Ambassador, “탈북민 영어교육프로그램 모금

Sungju Lee, Ambassador, “Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee (autograph)



Casey Lartigue, TNKR co-founder and International Director, “Casey Lartigue’s Matching Donation Alert” “Casey Lartigue’s fundraiser for TNKR,” “KC’s 2017 Birthday Matching Grant,”

Dave Fry, TNKR Assistant Director and tutor, “Help me help North Korean Refugees

Tony Docan-Morgan, Senior Fellow, “Tony’s TNKR Birthday Fundraiser! 🙂,” “I’ll Mail You Korean Stickers!” “Thanksgiving, Black Friday, & Freedom

Youngmin Kwon, Academic Adviser and tutor, “Support North Korean Refugees & Human Rights!

Janice Kim. Academic Coordinator and tutor, “Janice’s 30th Birthday Fundraiser for TNKR!

Spencer Kim, Intern Coordinator and tutor, “Fund TNKR’s Future


Renee Cummins, November 2016 party


Sandra Durinick & Manda Sheffy, January 2018 fundraiser


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Eben’s Notes: “You can’t save the world.”

Today’s Eben’s Notes summarizes the TEDx Talk by TNKR co-founders Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee!

People want to save the world. You can’t save the world, but here is what we can do. Don’t be an observer. Take your thoughts to the public. Save the world by finding a cause. “Finding a cause is like joining the Mafia, it is easier to get in than to get out”. Before you try to change the world, act locally. These are the words of Casey Lartigue Jr., a black man from Missouri City, Texas, who traveled 7000 miles to Seoul, Korea after leaving a distinguished career in Washington, D.C..

In D.C. as a Think Tank Analyst with the Cato Institute, and a Master’s Degree from Harvard Univ. in Education, he joined a coalition to help develop the School Choice Program there. This voucher program allows underprivileged children the freedom of choice by giving them the opportunity to choose their own schools. In so doing he observed the empowerment felt by the parents of these children when given the freedom of choice in this situation.

After years of dealing with the political bureaucracy and the “Cocktail Party” thinking in D.C. he took a “road less traveled” to Seoul and eventually met Eunkoo Lee, in 2012. A shy South Korean woman from a small town on the border of North Korea. She was a researcher in Human Rights for NK people, with a Master’s Degree. She decided to join forces with Lartigue in March of 2013 to combine their passions for freedom of choice and opportunity by co-founding TNKR (Teach North Korean Refugees), an English teaching program for NK refugees.

Eunkoo felt that the refugees were passive due to the oppression they experienced under the Kim Regime.

The following TEDx presentation outlines the sought after teaching program, disagreements between the co-founders regarding the passive nature of the refugees, and Lee having to admit that by being given the freedom of choice, the refugees became empowered by the ability to choose their own tutors. There are many moments of amusing comments such as when one refugee contacted Director Lartigue directly and eagerly asked him, “English, teach me?”. Obviously, she was no longer passive. There are 70 refugees on the TNKR waiting list at the moment. TNKR doesn’t find the refugees, they find TNKR, says Lartigue. Even with their limited funds as an all-volunteer group, their passion for helping the refugees keeps them going.


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2018-01-11 Pushed to the bathroom

We have five rooms in our office–2 study rooms, 1 common area, 1 office for directors, 1 bathroom. At one point, all five rooms were being used, with one staffer making a phone call from the bathroom so he wouldn’t bother other meetings.

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2018-01-06 In Search of a Forgotten Hostage (English version of French article)

January 6, 2018: Journalist Guillaume Piedboeuf just published this in-depth piece on Mr. Hwang and his campaign. A Google translation into English with some minor edits follows below.


In South Korea, In-cheol Hwang is one of many protesters. Yet, his cause is very singular. His life-long efforts concern his father who was kidnapped in 1969 by the North Korean regime. One month before the Pyeongchang Olympics, The Sun plunges you into the great human story behind a forgotten diplomatic incident between the two Koreas.

In the streets and subway of Seoul, millions of workers and students are moving quickly. They all seem to walk in a rush, with hurried footsteps, their eyes are often glued to their smartphones.

South Koreans are shaped by the hyper-competitive society that surrounds them. They live in the snapshot. The past belongs to museums. The past, it is the Chinese and Japanese occupation. It is the Korean War, then a country torn in its center, destroyed and poor.

In this human tide that submerges Seoul every day, more than a hundred thousand people have already met In-cheol Hwang. Most without realizing it. They went around him on the subway, maybe, or they looked away when walking by his poster on a sidewalk. He is not the only protester in town, after all. There are hundreds, every day, clustered downtown, camping for one cause or another.

Since 2001, In-cheol, 50 years old, has demonstrated alone in the streets of the capital several hundred times. He addresses the unbelieving passersby to tell them about the tragedy of his life: a plane hijacking that occurred in 1969.

Fifteen years to be ignored, according to the main party. In-cheol Hwang, however, has only one claim: that his father should return to South Korean soil, 48 years after being kidnapped by the North Korean regime.

His fight is constantly facing the same problem. A crumbled collective memory that has no concern with the injustices of the past. How could a simple, uneducated worker succeed in settling a half-century old diplomatic incident?

“It would have been so much easier if I had found a good reason to give up, but I always come to the same conclusion. If I give up just because it’s too difficult, I will not be different from those governments and the society that I blame for ignoring and forgetting about my father’s situation.”

In-cheol would probably still be in the street, smashed, standing there with a protest poster in hand, trying to collect signatures at the bottom of a petition, had it not been for a Texan and unexpected help from the nonprofit organization of the latter, an English school for North Korean refugees.


On December 11, 1969, Won Hwang, a TV producer for the South Korean MBC network, boarded a domestic flight to Seoul plane at Gangneung Airport, a coastal town in northeastern South Korea some 80 kilometers from the northern border.

In a poor and rebuilding country, Won, 31, was doing surprisingly well. His job at MBC put him in a relatively affluent social class and allowed him to take care of his wife and two young children. His son, In-Cheol, was 2 years old. His daughter, Chan-wook, had been born a few months earlier.

Won was not supposed to be travelling to Seoul, but because of a scheduling conflict, his boss asked him to go to a meeting at the head office of the television network in his place.

At 12:25, a Korean Airlines YS-11 plane left Gangneung airport with four crew members and 47 passengers on board. In the minutes after take-off, the plane dropped off radar screens. The South Korean authorities were trying to determine what happened while the flight was still expected at Gimpo Airport in Seoul.

Did the plane crash? The hypothesis was quickly dismissed. After a few hours, the real story began to emerge. The plane was hijacked to North Korea. Sixteen years after the signing of a truce ending the Korean War (1950-1953), the two Koreas were still at loggerheads. But North Korea has just crossed a dangerous line.

Months later, the passenger testimonials would help determine what really happened on the flight. Ten minutes after takeoff, a passenger who was a North Korean sleeper agent burst into the cockpit. He demanded the plane fly to North Korea. The flight path was changed as three North Korean army fighter jets joined the aircraft to escort it to Sondok Airport on North Korean east coast. After a hard landing, soldiers invaded the aircraft. They blindfolded passengers before leading them off the plane.

The news of the hijacking spread around the world. Two days after the incident, North Korean radio broadcast a message from the two pilots of the plane. They said they fled to North Korea voluntarily. It was hard to believe that they spoke voluntarily. The international community strongly condemned the North Korean government.

On the evening of December 12, some 100,000 South Koreans gathered in the cold night of Seoul to demand the return of the 50 captives. Watched by international media, protesters burned a puppet of North Korean Head of State Kim Il-sung.

Under pressure at the end of December, the latter accepted a negotiation meeting with South Korea for the release of the hostages. During the negotiations held a month later, the North Korean authorities agreed to repatriate the four crew members and 46 passengers.

However, on February 14, 1970, only 39 of the captured passengers were released at the border of the Panmunjom joint military base in the demilitarized zone which separates the two countries. No explanation was given by North Korea for the four crew members and seven passengers that were not released.

They all had specific professional skills, ranging from cameraman to hospital director. One of them was the TV producer Won Hwang.

Several of the released passengers reported being subjected to daily indoctrination sessions during their 66 days of captivity. The goal of such sessions was to convince them of the superiority of North Korean communism. One of the captives  was particularly resistant to North Korean propaganda, according to two different testimonies reported by the newspapers of the time.

“When we were forced to attend indoctrination classes, Mr. Won Hwang refuted their communist theories one by one. Soldiers dragged him outside the room, and he did not return until 14 days later. On New Year’s Day, Mr. Hwang sang a song about his desire to go home and the soldiers dragged him away again. That was the last time we saw him,” said one of the released hostages.

North Korea presents a very different version to the Red Cross when the international body formally requested the return of the 11 missing passengers. They remain in North Korea “at their own will,” the regime says again.

The Red Cross asks Kim Il-sung that a neutral representative travel to North Korea to confirm the detainees’ wishes, but that petition was denied.

At the beginning of 1970, resolutions were adopted by the Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly to force North Korea to repatriate the hostages. In July, the International Civil Aviation Organization, in turn, passed a motion calling for the return of all prisoners of hijacking or boating, but Pyongyang turned a deaf ear.

Faced with the failure of the steps, the fate of the 11 passengers was quietly forgotten.

At the turn of the 70s, South Korea was still far from the economic power it would become 20 years later. The country is just starting to recover from the war. A war that ended in a fragile truce. One can not risk, in the context, a new conflict breaking out.

“The 1969 hijacking is the kind of incident that could have led to a new war. I think that’s why we quickly forgot it. The South Korean government decided to sacrifice some people, including my father, to save the entire population from another war. It was a conscious decision that was taken at the time to ignore a criminal act of North Korea,” said In-cheol Hwang.

II. Dad is on a Business Trip

Until the age of 13, In-cheol Hwang knew nothing about the hijacking. “When I asked my mother where my father was, she told me that he was on a business trip to the United States. Except he never came back. “

For years, his mother refuses to leave the house. A heavy burden for the child. “I had a ban on social activities. Many people thought I was going to be an idiot because I could not do anything. It was difficult.” he recalls.

In 1980, one of his uncles decided to tell him the truth without his mother’s consent. His father was not really in the United States; rather, he was being held somewhere in North Korea. “I was young, but I understood that day that it would be very difficult to see my father again one day.”

In-cheol regretted that his mother hid the truth from him. He describes her as a dejected woman who has lived, since 1969, only a shadow of a life.

Even today, 48 years after his forced departure to North Korea, Won Hwang is officially employed by MBC Gangneung. At the time, the television network’s management committed to continuing to pay a salary to the family of its abducted employee.

According to In-cheol Hwang, maintaining his father’s position at MBC was more than economic value for his mother. It was the hope that he would come back one day and that life would resume.

“My mother always waited for my father’s return. She said he would need a job when he came back. “

In high school, In-cheol learned not to ignore the tragic fate of his father. The South Korean company gradually adopted the official North Korean version of the incident. The opposite would be to admit that South Korea had abandoned 11 of its citizens.

“My teachers asked me what happened to my father. I said he was kidnapped by North Korea. They took me in front of everyone saying, ‘You mean that he voluntarily fled to North Korea.'”

The situation continued as In-cheol moved into adulthood. He hardly talked about his father’s situation, fearing persecution.

“During the first part of my life, I wondered why I was alive. What was my goal on Earth? I felt there was something I had to do, but I did not know yet what that was. My twenties were chaotic, but I eventually decided to live my life in a way that would not shame my father. After getting married, I lived a normal life… until 2001.


On June 13 2000, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung arrived in Pyongyang for a historic summit with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-Il. For the first time since the end of the war in 1953, the leaders of the two Koreas met.

The three-day summit ended with a handshake and a toast between the two heads of state. Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-Il signed an important deal for Koreans. On the one hand, the rich South Korea would offer economic aid to its neighbor. An approach called The Sunshine Policy. On the other hand, the two Koreas would work together to reunite families separated by war. There were hundreds of thousands on either side of the border who had not been able to see their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, or children for half a century.

More than 76,000 South Koreans wanting to see a loved one in North Korea applied. The list of eligible candidates was then forwarded by the Red Cross to the North Korean government, which confirmed a fraction of those whose relatives were still alive. Finally, a lottery determined the 200 South Koreans who could met their relatives.

On August 15, a plane flanked by the starry red flag of the Kim Jong-Il regime landed on the tarmac at Gimpo Airport, Seoul, with 100 passengers. They had three days in South Korea at a specified location with their relatives. The plane left with a hundred South Koreans who would be reunited with one or more relatives in Pyongyang.

Three days later, everyone must said goodbye probably for the last time. Older couples burst into tears and hugged and agreed the reunion was worth the effort. After a life of turmoil, they could now die in peace.

In-cheol Hwang could only imagine that feeling. He submitted his candidacy but was not selected. A meeting with relatives of the other passengers of the YS-11 was organized for the occasion. For the first time in his life, In-cheol could talk about the kidnapping of his father with people who understood him.

Hope returned. Faced with the success of the first meeting event of divided families, the Red Cross and the governments of the two Koreas decide to repeat the experience.

A few months later, the mother of Kyung-hee Sung, a YS-11 stewardess, won the lottery to determine who could next be reunited with relatives residing in North Korea. She would be reunited with her daughter some 31 years after the hijacking.

The touching mother-daughter encounter was captured by South Korean cameras in Pyongyang on February 26, 2001. A report recalling the tragic fate of the 11 captives of the YS-11 was broadcast for the occasion.

Sitting at home, In-cheol, who had become a father, looked at everything on his television with his two-year-old daughter on his knees. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

“My daughter was the same age I was when my father was kidnapped. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Something I would not trade for anything in the world. I still had this pain in me having my father kidnapped. But on that day, another even more intense pain was added. I imagined how my father must have felt, a parent forcibly separated from his children.”

“Viewing those images radically changed my life. That day, I decided that I absolutely had to see my father again.”


In his spare time, In-cheol Hwang began collecting newspaper clippings, book excerpts, and testimonies proving that his father was illegally detained. He sought international law articles that supported his claims. North Korea had been holding hostages for several decades, but it needed to be proven.

In parallel, the young father protested alone when he had the opportunity, trying to raise awareness of his compatriots to his cause. Easier said than done. The younger generation had never heard of the hijacking. In their collective memory, it was buried under several decades of other diplomatic incidents between the two Koreas.

In-cheol Hwang joined a South Korean group of families of abduction victims. But with that group, his cause was relegated to the background due to the more recent kidnappings of fishermen in the Sea of ​​Japan and the Yellow Sea.

Under its expansion, an association formed only of relatives of the captives of the YS-11 was formed. However, the process disappeared after a few years due to the inability of the group to make its claims heard.

At irregular intervals, meetings of Korean families continued. Each time, In-cheol Hwang hoped to be one of the lucky ones. Each time, success eluded him. He asked for explanations from the Red Cross. In 2006, it finally relayed an official response from the North Korean government. His application was declared inadmissible because it was impossible to confirm if his father was still alive. That answer, which In-cheol had waited six years for, enraged answer him.

The information available to him suggested that his father was still alive in the 1990s. A call received at the time from a South Korean secret service agent told him, on condition of anonymity, that his father was employed by a North Korean propaganda television. A post that would have been logical considering his experience as a TV producer in South Korea.

In-cheol intensified his efforts. He went to the National Assembly and various government buildings weekly, but he failed to meet with senior officials. He sent letters to international organizations without response. He wrote petitions demanding the return of his father and he roamed the streets of Seoul in search of signatures.

“Everyone told me I was crazy. Simply crazy. I was thought ridiculous. My wife was the sole exception. From the beginning, she told me that what I was trying to do was right.”

But after a few years, In-cheol Hwang’s family became discouraged. The cause was poorly publicized and morale was low. “For each of my events that received some media coverage, there were at least 100 that nobody talked about.”

Between minimum wage jobs and his fight to find his father, he struggled to make ends meet. In debt, he become a credit risk in the eyes of the banks. That low credit rating prevented him from getting any kind of loan. In-cheol felt stuck. Through his struggle, he was destroying his own family. “I had to make a choice.”

He stopped the demonstrations and tried to accept that he would never see his father again. Then he changed his mind. He could not shut up and stop.

During a meeting of families of captives from North Korea, he managed to talk with the South Korean Deputy Minister at the Unification. The latter explained that relations with North Korea were too sensitive and important for his government to bring back an old diplomatic incident such as the hijacking of aircraft.

In-cheol did not give up. He listed his father as a captive with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. In 2012, he began a tour of events across different South Korean cities. 15,000 signatures were added to his petition.

“My wife was skeptical that these signatures would change anything. But for me, those signatures were hope.”

With that new hope, he felt that his cause was moving forward. But slowly, hope faded. His struggle for his father swallowed him up. “I felt that I was doomed to fight all my life without anyone really listening to me,” he recalls, before quoting Martin Luther King Jr.:

It is against this appalling silence that In-cheol Hwang has lived. “It was like I was on a thin path, completely in the dark. There was no way out. I could not go back, but going forward was also scary. I was alone in the cold of loneliness,” he describes. “I felt like that until I met Casey.”


Casey Lartigue Jr. was 12 years old when, in the comfort of his home in Texas, he read Frederick Douglass’s three autobiographies. In his writings, the former slave turned leader of the American abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century stresses the importance for everyone to control their own lives. The importance, too, of freedom of movement. The universal right to move. “His words moved me from a young age,” says Casey, himself an African-American.

More than a decade later, that Texan found himself on the benches of Harvard University, finishing as a master’s student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “So many of my classmates talked about working at the United Nations or at UNESCO. I used to say, “Where are the people in all these big plans? Where does the individual have autonomy” There was no answer to that because the structure of these big organizations work from top to bottom. “

Shaped by the writings of Frederick Douglass, Casey Lartigue is opposed to the idea of ​​determining for others, especially the oppressed, what is best for them. “If you are in a position to design a program helping others, then it needs to be designed so that people still have power. Individuals need power to choose for themselves. “

After Harvard, he taught English abroad, then returned to the United States to accept an education analyst position at the Cato Institute. He became known for helping to create an education scholarship program for disadvantaged youth in Washington DC, bringing his case to the US Congress.

In 2011, the Texan accepted a think tank offer in Seoul. His Korean adventure quickly took an unexpected turn.

In early 2012, about thirty North Korean fugitives on the run were caught by the Chinese authorities. As the agreement between the two allies, the refugees would be sent back to North Korea.

“There were demonstrations in Seoul against the Chinese embassy. After participating in a few, I started recruiting expats so that more people could join, to show it wasn’t just South Koreans and North Korean refugees who cared about this case, “says Casey Lartigue.

A turning point came when he met Park Sun-young, a South Korean MP who had started a hunger strike in response to the arrest of North Korean refugees in China. The American introduced himself to Prof. Park, pledging to do more to help North Korean refugees. “She had no idea who I was. She asked me to be a teacher at the new school she was starting for North Korean refugees. I said no, because I was not a teacher. I told her that instead of teaching that I could volunteers eager to teach. “

Casey decided to start his own English project helping North Korean refugees. Instead of adults, it would be for North Korean refugee adults who dream of a career in South Korea or internationally, who want to tell their story, but are hampered by their inability to speak the language of Shakespeare.

He built his organization as he had always imagined humanitarian aid. It gives freedom of choice to the refugees. “In our program, refugees choose their language helpers and mentors. They also choose what they want to study. They feel good because they enter the room and they know that people there are waiting for the chance to work for them and that they have the power to choose who will help them. So many refugees told us it was the first time in their lives that they had a choice. “

A few years after the creation of the project, Casey Lartigue now devotes full time to Teaching North Korea Refugees (TNKR), which he co-founded with South Korean researcher Eunkoo Lee. He has been offered positions in major international organizations. He chose his small organization, raising money on his own and rarely sleeping.

“I always do what interests me. It’s my life. I go where I want to go without following a pre-established course. “

Just spend a few minutes with him to understand that 24 hours are not enough to complete his days. He has no time for futile discussions. Send him an email, you will receive an automated answer apologizing in advance for the time of his answer. The reason is simple: Casey is, like TNKR, always active, busy, doing something.

The organization’s office is not likely to be confused with those of the United Nations. At the end of an alley off a major thoroughfare in Seoul, the small organization struggles to meet the demands of refugees. When too many of them want to take a class at the same time, Casey gives up his office and goes to work at a nearby café, as he did on this day. “The place is theirs first.”

In the context, it may seem difficult to understand why the tiny organization and its co-founder, since April 2016, have embarked on a complex international diplomacy dossier concerning the hijacking of an aircraft in 1969.


It is a coincidence that the fates of Casey Lartigue and In-cheol Hwang met in March 2016 when TNKR co-hosted a workshop to highlight the work of Seoul-based humanitarian organizations.

“One of the six organizations that we wanted to present was very slow in confirming. We began considering others when our colleagues from the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) recommended the representative of the families of the 1969 hijacking. “

Casey had heard about it but had not read about it in detail. Listening to In-cheol Hwang speak, he immediately decided to get involved.

“I thought, ‘He’s been fighting like this mostly alone for 15 years? I must do something.'”

The tragic fate of Won Hwang touched a chord with the Harvard graduate: the writings of Frederick Douglass. The captives of flight YS-11 have been deprived for nearly 50 years of the universal right to move.

At the end of the day, seminar participants were invited to volunteer with the organizations. Several people shared their contact information with In-Cheol, offering to help.

“But two weeks later, I followed up to check. No one was doing anything to help,” says Casey Lartigue. “So I decided to get more deeply involved to try to get things started.”

At his Seoul office, he can not drive out of his mind the image of In-cheol Hwang, again alone in the street, shouting his distress to a world ignoring him. The American makes him a suggestion: In-cheol should join TNKR as a student, then the organization would try to build a team around him.

“It was clear to us that it was his fight first and foremost. He was offered a platform and the opportunity to recruit volunteers.” I said to myself, ”He’s being fighting, usually by himself, for 15 years, I have to do something ”.

A few months later, a demonstration was organized by TNKR at the Freedom Bridge, in the demilitarized zone on the border of the two Koreas. There were about ten volunteers gathered with In-cheol Hwang. “Most people would say we had failed because there were only about 10 of us, but he told us that he felt that he had a million man army with him,” Casey says.

In-cheol’s sister, Chan-wook (Cecelia O’Hare), even traveled from England, where she lives, eager to learn a little more about the mysterious group of good Samaritans who decided to join her brother. She has followed her brother’s campaign for years without getting involved. She was moved by the kindness and seriousness of TNKR’s volunteers.

It has been years since she had seen her brother smile. She told Casey Lartigue that day. “You are the one who makes invisible people visible,” she said.

The event attracted media coverage that In-cheol could not have dreamed of. All thanks to the work done upstream by the small team of volunteers.

Among them, no one is more important than Youngmin Kwon, a South Korean who had just joined TNKR two weeks before the demonstration at the Freedom Bridge. “I had never seen him before. He said he wanted to help,” says Casey.

Originally a law student at Georgetown University in Washington, Youngmin Kwon was on sabbatical for medical reasons in the spring of 2016. A volunteer for Amnesty International in the United States, he has always dreamed of a career in humanitarian action.

He had heard about In-cheol Hwang and come to TNKR to help out. Six months after meeting Mr. Hwang, the student still has not returned to study in the United States. He found in his native land the cause of his life.

Youngmin Kwon now devotes his weeks to organizing gatherings, soliciting international organizations, and translating Korean into English for In-cheol. The fate of Won Hwang and the passengers of the YS-11 consumes him.

If you ask Youngmin for news about himself, he will give you Mr. Hwang’s news. Talk to him about what you can do with your life, he will explain how you could help Mr. Hwang with a very little effort, such as by translating Hwang’s petition into French and by sharing it on Facebook.

“Youngmin has become his eyes, his ears, and his mouth,” says Casey Lartigue.


“The silence of society and the government did not change immediately after meeting Casey,” In-cheol Hwang admits. TNKR did not arrive with a quick fix. He was aware of it.

But during the two hours spent telling his story, the man was no longer the shadow of himself he was a few years ago. He not only smiles, he even laughs.

“I feel that I finally have the power to raise my voice. With that came hope. For someone who has suffered as much as I have, the smallest glimmer of hope is an immense source of power. There is now a light that helps me to move forward. I still do not know how long the road will be, but I feel I can overcome one obstacle at a time. “

In 2016, in the wake of the Freedom Bridge rally, a man whom In-cheol Hwang refers to by his codename “Superman”  contacted him. “Superman”, according to In-cheol, is a South Korean with important connections in North Korea. Through his contacts, he was able to trace Won Hwang. He is still alive at age 80, living in a village near Pyongyang under constant surveillance.

Suddenly, his father’s release is no longer an unreachable dream for In-cheol Hwang. “I am convinced today that it is not something of the past. This is a humanitarian cause that requires a formal request to the North Korean regime. “

“Bring My Father Home”, his online petition, has been translated into seven languages, and his story has begun to make waves internationally. From England, Chan-wook Hwang (Cecilia O’Hare), has finally decided join the fight to see her father again. The Sun  and The Daily Mail published articles about her in December, 2017.

The latest annual report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) devoted a full page to the story of Won Hwang and his son’s struggle. Youngmin Kwon talks about these few paragraphs of a document of more than 200 pages with stars in their eyes.

“For someone who has suffered as much as me, the smallest glimmer of hope is an immense source of power. There is now a light that helps me to move forward.” In-cheol Hwang.

On 19 December, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the human rights violations committed in North Korea for a 13th consecutive year. For the first time, however, the resolution called for the North Korean regime to confirm the status, whether dead or alive, of family members separated between the two Koreas.

Slowly, the winds of change seem to be blowing.

“The South Korean government has so far refused to do anything I have asked them to do to help repatriate my father. That is why I am appealing to the conscience of the 21st century.” says In-cheol.

“People see this case in a very complex way, but for me, it has become very simple since I met Casey. As time passes, things become clearer. South Koreans are changing too. By placing one piece of the puzzle after another, I feel certain that we will succeed and I will see my father again. I believe that people’s conscience will ultimately allow justice to triumph.”

This is what has happened to In-cheol Hwang; his renewed faith in the world around him. 15 years of loneliness and indifference have ended, all because a handful of volunteers have decided to help him. The mere fact that some people are as outraged as he is about his father’s plight has allowed In-cheol to reconcile with his fellow human beings.

Casey Lartigue can not guarantee that the Hwangs will one day be reunited. Who knows if North Korea will ever fold? Who knows if “Superman” was not wrong and that Won Hwang is not already dead?

But whether his father’s life ends on South Korean or North Korean soil, Casey, Youngmin, and TNKR will have at least saved a life.

The life of a son. The life of In-cheol Hwang.