Leonard Read, founder of FEE (Foundation for Economic Education), talked about different levels of leadership. The Fourth Level is when people start to seek you out for your counsel. If people aren’t seeking you out, then you can draw your own conclusions about your range of influence.

Although he was talking more about the spreading of ideas rather than real action, I suppose that Mr. Read would have said that we are approaching that 3rd Level of Leadership. We have numerous people coming to us, trying to get involved.

  • We have refugees tracking us down even though we don’t do any advertising.
  • We have volunteers constantly popping up, locally and from around the world.
  • We don’t have a communications team for media, but we still have many requests.
  • TNKR has been nominated for and won awards from organizations we have never heard of.
  • We are credible enough that I’m constantly sending out recommendation letters for volunteers.
  • I don’t consider myself to be much of a mentor, but many people have adopted me as one!

The last few days have been busy so I haven’t had time to update, so here are several in one!

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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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Today’s big events and activities at TNKR:

  • PARTNERSHIP: The big news today is that TNKR finalized the details of a partnership that we will be announcing on Tuesday during an MOU signing ceremony. This will be absolutely fantastic for refugees studying in TNKR. We are thankful that a South Korean organization that is much larger than ours has found us and wanted to partner with us. Stay tuned! And separate of that, we had a second meeting about another possible partnership, but that one will take a bit more time.
  • MEDIA: Another day, another reporter at the TNKR office. This time, the reporter recorded TNKR senior fellow Tony Docan-Morgan having a coaching session with a North Korean refugee who will become internationally known. We have already seen her improve really quickly, it will be impossible to stop her once she has sharpened her English.
  • TUTORING: We had a tutoring session with one of our tutors who joined us last month but has had many tutoring sessions already. I love it that she and her student she tutored today make it a point to meet at our office. One day when TNKR is a large organization then we will be able to hold more study sessions.
  • PUBLIC SPEAKING: Scott gave another speech. We weren’t able to make it, but I’m sure he was great. He has an incredible story and I can see how much he has sharpened his public speaking in the last couple of months.
  • ACTIVISM: We couldn’t make it, but I heard that Hwang In-Cheol and Youngmin Kwon had a great meeting getting prepared for a press briefing at the Press Club in Seoul.
  • OUTREACH: TNKR co-founders Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee, and TNKR Senior Fellow Tony Docan-Morgan will be speaking at the 2018 Korean Association for Multicultural Education International Conference on May 24 from 4:20 pm at Korea University.

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TNKR co-founder and National Director Eunkoo Lee received a phone call from a refugee who joined us recently. Her main comments and questions for Eunkoo:

Are my teachers okay even though I am an ABC level English speaker? They must be having a tough time dealing with me. So they might want to quit?

I was determined to try English only, but when I met my teachers, I guessed that some of them might be willing to use Korean because of my low level. But none of them have used it and one told me that it is against TNKR policy. I think this shows that TNKR teachers understand how refugees need to study English.

I am so happy to continue studying, but I am worried that my teachers will be bored helping a student like me who is so basic at English.

In addition to that student:

  • Eunkoo had three face-to-face interviews with refugees eager to join TNKR.
  • A refugee who is really eager called to ask if he can join the next Matching session. He recently joined us and wants to study more.
  • A refugee who has been studying in TNKR consistently since joining in early 2016 called to ask if she can rejoin soon.
  • A refugee who did not have a good experience in the past now sent a long message saying that she can now understand our approach. At that time (2014 or 2015), she thought there was a problem that we did not have a set curriculum that students had to follow. But she has heard from other refugees about the way the teachers adjust to the students, and she can see that she wasted her opportunity to study with us because she was waiting to be led by the teachers.
  • Plus many nice notes and messages from refugees in TNKR over the holidays and today.

When we have so much activity around us, of refugees reaching out to us, I think about those “experts” who “know” that refugees are passive and need to be led.

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How often do you have a meeting, with both sides declaring, “I’m so inspired by you!”

It happened last night, when I met Rola Brentlin (recommended to me by Nigel Ashford and Kerry Halferty Hardy) during her short trip to Korea. She posted on Facebook that she was inspired to learn about TNKR.  In my case, I was inspired that she took such an interest in TNKR, and then took that interest to the next level! She wants to help TNKR with funding! 

“Inspiring meeting with Casey Lartigue Jr. who runs an organisation helping North Korean refugees. I would very much like to help them with funding, any ideas for how we could raise some funds for this important work is welcome!”

We now have more than 60 volunteers and fans who have set up fundraisers. Recently we have had well-connected people express interest in helping us build up TNKR. That is always inspiring!

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Years ago I read an article about a man who kept track of every detail of his life. The result is that he had boxes and boxes of diaries documenting every little detail. My question when I read the article: How in the world can he get anything done if he is busy writing every moment about what he is doing?
 
Few people have read his diaries and I don’t even remember his name now. That’s not surprising. After all, who wants to read about a guy using the bathroom at 7:40 am, then making a phone call 15 minutes later at 7:55, then checking the mail at 8:05, stubbing his foot in the door at 8:07, looking at the dog barking across at the street at 8:10 after he slammed his hand in the door as he was daydreaming about recording in his diary the exciting events of the past 30 minutes? 
 
Sometimes I fall behind in posting things about TNKR–because we are too busy DOING them. Here’s a wrap-up of some our recent activities. Clearly I’m smarter than the guy keeping all of those diaries. Instead of writing every detail, I take photos. But then, who in the world wants to look at all of our photos?
 
In this post:
Feedback and interviews with refugees
Youngmin Kwon, TNKR Academic Adviser
Interviews about TNKR
Visitors to TNKR
Leaving the TNKR Cave
TNKR Team
Not in this post:
Matching session on December 9
Orientation on December 10
Bring My Father Home Press Conference
…and other stuff I can’t remember or no one took photos…
 
FEEDBACK
 
When refugees first join TNKR, Eunkoo Lee and I conduct separate interviews. We do this as an initial session before the orientation to get to know the refugees a bit, to make sure they understand that this is a low-budget self-study program, to lower their expectations, to make sure we have an understanding of why they are joining TNKR, and to make sure they are thinking ahead about how to use TNKR well.
 
So many are overjoyed–some want to take photos with us because they have heard about TNKR. Others are thankful they finally have a chance to study with us. The initial interviews are always great. The refugees who have come in recently range from recently arrivals referred to us by other refugees or government agencies to refugees who have been here for a decade or more but have failed to learn English. Too many wonderful and sad stories, but my conclusion: North Korea is a screwed up country that unnecessarily keeps many of its people ignorant about the world and then cruelly punishes those who seek to escape to the outside world.
 

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  • If TNKR were the Earth, then environmentalists would condemn us as being overpopulated. It finally happened that we had too many volunteers in the office at one time, so not everyone could get a seat.
  • People often ask us what we would do if we had more money. One thing: Get a bigger office! We have a number of volunteers who want to work at our office, many tutors and refugees want to study at our office. But we lack the capacity.
  • We were squeezed out of the big room because Eunhee Park was getting interviewed.
  • Sometimes I feel like I’m in a bar, because it seems that I am the only person in the office who knows how to whisper. It needs to become the TNKR library, because we need to keep it quiet for study pairs and occasional interviews.

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TNKR is about to enter into a Kpop music cult.

A lovely mom and daughter visited us yesterday to donate about 100 book bags to TNKR. They say they have about 200 more, but they couldn’t fit all of them in their car (they drove from Incheon to our office in Seoul). Their plan: We can sell the bags with the patch from a popular Kpop group (BtoB), all proceeds will be donated to TNKR! We will be including a small TNKR patch, which I’m sure many of the kids will rip off.

Mom was going to sew them on, but I suggested that it would be better for TNKR to do that. It turned out to be a great idea, because we happened to have some new interns starting with us! They sewed the patches on 13 bags yesterday! The high school student will take the lead in connecting us with BtoB fans so hopefully they will rush to our website like teenage girls at a music concert rushing the stage.

Here’s the fundraising page to purchase bags.

If you’d like to spend a few hours sewing, stop by the TNKR office!

 

Meeting #1: South Korean professional visiting from Hong Kong. He wanted to find ways he could help from Hong Kong.

Meeting #2: Feedback session with a North Korean refugee who arrived in South Korea in December 2015 and joined our program December 2016 after waiting for a few months.

I imagine that some of my peers who are involved in advocacy, abstract or analytical work about North Korea rarely or never have NK refugees seeking them out to thank them. Some of their work may be valuable, but it isn’t the type of work that leads to the people who benefit from what they are doing to praise them.

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