We often have many North Korean refugees reaching out to us. But the last few days, our heads have been spinning with the number of phone calls, messages, visits, orientation sessions, applications, requests from and interviews with refugees studying, applying to or returning to TNKR.

Can you imagine our feelings when they praise us, come to visit us, or consider our rinky-dinky little project to be so valuable? I have heard that other programs must send constant reminders to refugees to join their meetings, conferences and workshops, but in our case, the refugees come looking for us.  There are larger, well-funded organizations that ask us to “send” refugees to them. We have developed a great program that has minimized socializing, dating and hanging out, and instead have volunteers who give their time to make sure that refugees learn. Refugees ran from North Korea, but they run to us!

Some people think I am exaggerating when I say such things, it apparently drives some people crazy, and others don’t believe me.

Last year I wrote about one of many insiders who have expressed doubts directly to me.

“At a recent party, I bumped into an influential South Korean colleague who insists she tried not to be prejudiced against refugees. She has heard from others working directly with refugees that they lie and cheat with impunity, don’t show up for classes or events, are always late, show no sense of responsibility, and are passive until they are pushed. She then told me that I must be having the same problems.

“She didn’t believe me. She had heard a little about our project and even checked a few of my email updates, but she said that I am the first person to work long-term with refugees who says they can be disciplined, thankful, and aggressive in a positive way. She said that her colleagues working with refugees have horror stories and social welfare workers routinely get their hearts broken.”

Does my heart look broken?

I’m not surprised by the failure of top-down programs with workshops and conferences that refugees aren’t really interested in to join fun camps and socializing opportunities mixed in to entertain but not necessarily assist them in reaching their goals.

There are other wonderful stories from refugees who came to visit us in the last week, but I can’t highlight them all. Yesterday we conducted four interviews with NK refugees who hope to join TNKR. We had five more refugees stop by to drop off their applications for a scholarship program we have with our partner organization Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation.

Help support TNKR, so doubters can see the light one day!

 

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On Tuesday May 8, the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) and the Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that will provide scholarships for fifteen North Korean refugees studying in TNKR beginning next month. The partnership is aimed at providing support for North Korean refugees college students who may be struggling with their university studies and financial issues.

According to one study, an estimated 28% of North Korean refugee college students drop out of college (six times higher than the overall 4.5% rate) in South Korea, with an estimated 33% of refugees citing English as the major factor and 29% citing financial difficulties. More than 360 North Korean refugees have studied English with almost 800 tutors and coaches in TNKR, a non-political, non-religious non-profit founded in 2013.

“We know that many of our students are struggling with studies at their universities, that’s why our approach of having refugees choose their own study paths in 1:1 tutoring sessions is both popular with and effective for refugees,” said Casey Lartigue Jr., co-founder of TNKR along with Eunkoo Lee. “I hope this will also be a wake-up call for people who want to focus on socializing and hanging out with North Korean refugees, and recognize this as a clear call-to-action that we need to do all we can help to help North Korean refugees with building up their academic skills.” 

Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation, a Christian foundation founded in 2001 by Lee Johng-ho, highlighted the importance of helping North Korean refugee students with their studies and supporting TNKR in its mission of helping North Korean refugees.

“Supporting North Korean students who have come to South Korea after experiencing many difficulties is in line with the purpose of our foundation,” said pastor Cho Byung-hun, chairman of Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation’s board of directors. “We want to invest helping to support North Korean refugees who are doing well in their studies and hope that our partnership with TNKR will help motivate them.”

The fifteen TNKR students who are awarded scholarships can have their scholarships renewed by demonstrating they have improved their grades. They can receive two different types of scholarships: 1) English Achievement Scholarship, receiving 250,000 won of support per semester. 2) Grade Achievement Scholarship, 400,000 won of support per semester. To be eligible, students should have studied in TNKR for at least three months or are joining TNKR now and are committed to studying in TNKR for at least three months.

Here is the Serpentem Scholarship Mission Foundation notice announcing this partnership with TNKR.

 

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