Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth

by Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights
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Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth
Learning Freedom: Help Educate North Korean Youth

NKHR continued to run its programs throughout 2020, although few times in limited capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions. Most of the meetings for the North Korean resettlers took place at our office, in small group settings and occasionally through online platforms. The North Korean students experience more problems with online classes in comparison to their South Korean peers and they cannot count on assistance from their North Korean parents who are not technologically savvy as well. Additional assistance was provided by Education Team and its volunteers to make sure the North Korean students are not left behind in times of pandemic when technological gaps cause additional disadvantages.

 

  • South and North Korean University Student Leadership Club

Monthly Leadership Club meetings are held for North Korean students resettling in South Korea. The club is an opportunity for students to read literature that was not allowed in North Korea and to discuss many current socio-political issues with their South Korean counterparts. Although Club meetings could not be held until July due to the spread of the Covid-19, NKHR officers took the chance to reorganize and enhance the program. NKHR developed plans to add more Humanities studies in the discussion, which would allow participating students to have a deeper understanding of aspects of human society, culture and themselves.

The Leadership Program was held on July 25, August 15, September 12 September 26, and November 28 with 10-11 North Korean students in attendance. The students discussed various issues from freedom of expression, to social inclusion and reunification.

In October, students went on a one-day excursion to Namyangju. Participants visited Slow City Culture Center and  exhibition titled Blindness. On December 26, all Leadership Club members gathered through a Zoom meeting and talked about what they have learned from participating in the program over a year. They also gave feedback on how to improve it in the future.

 

  •  Academic and Career Counseling Program

For North Korean students resettling in South Korea and preparing to enter university, NKHR is running an Academic Career Counseling Program. The Program was first launched in April 2013 with the aim to give academic advice and counsel along with career exploration. The program offers meetings with experts, college visits and group discussions on various issues. Through the program, NKHR also helps edit students’ personal statements, conduct mock interviews, prepare important paperwork, and other important aspects of their college application.

The program was held on June 27, July 11, August 19 and September 29.The students were given opportunities to test their interests and whether they are thinking of the right career path. In addition Mock interviews were held in the areas of the greatest interest: education, Social welfare, Nursing, Diplomacy, and Business Management. The students also held conversation with selected representatives of various jobs.

In addition, in October, 12 students went to Gangneung city to meet a mentor, who successfully runs his company in South Korea after escaping the North. On November 7, participating students met with a senior journalist at the Hankyoreh, a leading progressive newspaper in South Korea as a part of the career exploration series. Giving lecture, the journalist shared his insight into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and future direction of study. On November 28, students had a discussion on their roles in the future with Professor at the National Research Foundation of Korea who talked about necessary abilities in future and possible ways to be prepared in the rapidly changing society.  

 All Academic Career Counseling Program members were divided into two groups and had the last session meetings respectively on December 19 and 26. Concluding the year-long program and evaluating their academic performance in 2020 compared to their goals, participating students adjusted their goals and plans for 2021.

 

  •   Scholarship Program

NKHR has been offering monthly scholarships to North Korean students in order to support and encourage their commitment to education. Between 11 and 13 college students and 2 high school students were receiving scholarships each month in 2020.

 

  •  1 on 1 Mentoring Program

The Education Team at NKHR organizes a number of adjustment programs which aim to enhance educational opportunities for, and instill confidence in young North Korean resettlers.  Among these initiatives is the 1:1 mentorship program, which aids students in bridging educational gaps, particularly in the areas of English, Math, and Korean composition.  This year, the program has connected 21 North Korean students with a total of 33 volunteer mentors who are mostly South Korean university students. They are having weekly online education sessions for study.

 

  •  Handbook for North Korean Resettlers

Collaborating with young North Korean resettlers, NKHR published a handbook, Your 911. Written both in Korean and Chinese, the handbook provides useful and detailed information about lives in South Korea such as instructions on how to use the internet, cellphone, hospital, transportation, and etc. For young North Koreans coming from the most closed and controlled society, seemingly simple and usual tasks in South Korea like buying a book from the internet or taking the subway to meet a friend could be challenging. The handbook could be a friendly guide assisting North Korean youth to adjust to their new life in South Korean society.

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International Criminal Court
International Criminal Court

The NKHR's leadership program "U-Bridge" (You are the Bridge for Unification) is aimed to foster  North Korean university students to become future leaders who will be able to take an active part in the transition of North Korea in case of reunification.  The program thus places great emphasis on studies not only related to economics, politics and systems, but also on history, and socio-cultural and psychological adjustment in transition to democracy. Most importantly, it instills in participants an understanding of the value of freedom, democracy and human rights and the importance of dealing with the past in societies where large-scale violations have happened.

This year's program selected a total of seven South and North Korean students (two from the South and five from the North). The program involved three months of preparatory sessions in South Korea, as well as the field experience in the Netherlands and Germany where students learned about transitional justice. In the Hague, the students visited Yijun Peace Palace, International Criminal Court (ICC) and Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals and met with the experts from the institutions. Especially in ICC, they observed the trial of Dominic Ongwen who is allegedly responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Uganda. The trial drew the participants' attention since the case is applicable to the North Korean situation. Participating students also met with the Human Rights Ambassador of the Netherlands and diplomats and discussed the human right violations in North Korea. In Germany, students also visited various places related to "memory" and were amazed by how Germans preserved and documented history.

The participating students said that the trip seeded a profound question inside them - "What can I do for the unification of Korea?" Although they could not find the complete answer yet, they were able to observe the Korean situations from the third-parties' perspective and diagnose which elements Korea lacks to be fully prepared for the smooth transition; thus, they also realized their roles to fill the gap and could be more motivated to pursue their field of studies. The students were also profundly impressed by foreigners' interest in their life back in the North and their adjustment in South Korea - "questions that many South Koreans avoid to ask," one female North Korean student said.

The students who participated in the program in the past few years continue to meet during monthly meetings of the Leadership Club, where they discuss solutions to current ongoing problems in society.

Peace Palace in the Hague
Peace Palace in the Hague
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Evening homework tutoring
Evening homework tutoring

Last Winter break, 33 North Korean students joined the Hangyureh Winter School from January 2 to 19. Participating students lived side-by-side with volunteer teachers and NKHR officers and took intense courses on Korean writing, math, and English. In the evening, one-on-one tutoring sessions were prepared to provide more tailored education to individual students.

Participating students also enjoyed English recreation classes which helped them feel comfortable with English while playing word games and singing American pop songs. The school curriculum also included extensive program during which students learned about and actively discussed various issues, such as the impact of humans on environment, or impact of using positive speech. Generally speaking, North Korean students have serious inhibitions to express what they feel and think, as freedom of thought and expression is prohibited in North Korea, but as the time went by more and more students actively joined the debates.

Joon, who is enrolled at UC Berkely, summed up the time spent as a volunteer teacher saying, "I have re-evaluated the essence of volunteering. When I realized that for me it was just contributing time and skills, but for these children the school was like a ladder helping them to suceede in life, and that they looked up to me as their teacher, I began feeling enormous responsibility."

Since 2001, NKHR helped 800 student through the Hangyoreh School, focusing on basic academic instruction and training on life in a free society. 

Group assignments
Group assignments
Sport activities
Sport activities
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NKHR staff and volunteers in front of Hanawon
NKHR staff and volunteers in front of Hanawon

Hanawon, the facility affiliated with the South Korean Ministry of Unification is where North Korean defectors receive 12-week training for social adaptation and prepare for settlement by learning various skills to be able to function well in the South Korean society. They also receive their South Korean National Identity number, registration of family relations, make housing arrangements and more. NKHR’s Team of staff and volunteers has been visiting Hanawon every Saturday since 1999, meeting with young North Korean students and providing classes to improve their English and Mathematics skills, in addition to organizing sports, science and arts activities. NKHR’s Hanawon Program targets separately two age groups: elementary school children and middle and high school children. For security purposes, this government facility does not allow for taking photos inside or of the beneficiaries.

Many of North Korean children and youth spend several years without proper schooling before their arrival in South Korea. They are only able to continue their proper education once they arrive in Hanawon. NKHR plays the role of facilitator for the youth to follow up with their school works and stimulate their interest in learning by providing supplementary gamified studying hours. The program is divided to morning classes and we prepare scientific experiments or games to play in the afternoon.

NKHR’s staffs and volunteers leave Seoul every Saturday at 7:30 a.m. to visit Hanawon. It takes approximately two hours to reach Hanawon facility. Despite early morning hours, heavy luggage with materials and tiring journey, the expectation of the smiles and twinkling eyes of the young North Korean students waiting for us in Hanawon makes us forget about these difficulties. In fact, many of the students grow very attached to volunteers and staff and some of them continue to contact us or take part in other educational programs of NKHR after leaving Hanawon facility.

Min-su, one of the students whom we are still engaging after he left Hanawon, said that Saturday was most exciting day of the week. Together with other students, he would sit on hallways and wait for us guessing what activity they would do on that day. It was time for them not only to study English and Mathematics, but also to play educational games and interact with South Korean staff and volunteers as their first introduction to the South Korean society. Min-su also said that observing us, the desire grew in him to become a volunteer and stand in front of young students in Hanawon once he enters a university.

Hanawon School also organizes graduation ceremony for North Korean youth before their discharge from the facility. NKHR awards Exemplary Award with small gifts at every graduation to one student who not only diligently and actively participated in the program, but also showed exemplary caring attitude toward other students.

The generous support of our Global Giving donors allows us to buy educational materials and provides for the public transportation costs of the NKHR's Team visiting Hanawon. From the beginning of this year, 130 North Korean children and 250 youth benefited from NKHR’s program in Hanawon. We provide additional assistance and other programs to those who continue to stay engaged with NKHR upon their resettlement in South Korean society. 

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Some of our donors may remember Sungju, a former North Korean street-child, our former student and now also a consultant on refugees at our organization.

Sungju has long been dreaming of continuing his academic studies and was recommended for Fulbright Scholarship by our organization. Upon receiving his scholarship, he will start his Ph.D. program this September in Washington. Sungju belongs to a first group of North Korean students who succesfully resettled in South Korea and who will start their advanced academic programs in the U.S.

Apart from being a consultant for our organization and raising funds for relief activities for North Korean refugees, Sungju appears regularly on TV program and has also published his second book in Korean. The book documents his process of adjustment in South Korea and how he self-taught himself English language. His first book, Every Falling Star was published in English for young international audience and is an account of his life as a street boy in North Korea.

Sungju took part in several programs run by the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. He graduated with Magna cum Laude from Sogang University in Seoul, majoring in Political Science and M.A. from Warwick University in UK. He will now continue his academic path in conflict analysis and resolution at George Mason University.

In June, when our organization received Democracy Award in Washington, Sungju travelled with the senior management of NKHR and spoke to several members of U.S. Congress in his - now fluent - English. We are convinced that Sungju will become one of the leaders of peaceful re-unification between South and North Korea and that his example will positively influence young generation of North Koreans escaping North Korea in search for freedom.

NKHR is planning to assist its next group of bright North Korean students (all female!) interested in science and technology to find scholarships at U.S. colleges and universities. 

NKHR has also been offering monthly scholarships (U$ 250) to North Korean students in order to support and encourage their commitment to education. This year, 12 college students and 1 high school student received scholarship each month. Special scholarship of U$ 9,000 was awarded to Sungju to support his living expenses in the U.S. 

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Organization Information

Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights

Location: Seoul - South Korea
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @nkhumanrights
Project Leader:
Joanna Hosaniak
Seoul, Seoul South Korea
$42,805 raised of $43,000 goal
 
487 donations
$195 to go
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