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
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
Students having a discussion
Students having a discussion

NKHR concentrates its educational projects to empower the defected North Korean students for the future unification of the Korean peninsula along with strengthening their foundational learning skills. NKHR mostly designs the recipients of the empowerment projects to be both students from North and South Korea because unification cannot be done by one side of Korea. We value the young generation to have balanced perspectives and learn to respect the differences of each other.  

One of NKHR’s recent projects Na-Neoul, the abbreviation of ‘I-You-Us’ in Korean language, aims to build a small unified community where students learn how to discuss logically and to respect diversity. The defected North Korean and South Korean university students had monthly meetings and had discussion on various topics such as disability, potlicis, community and civilization. 

This project was first launched as a three-year long project. The first year focused on how ‘I’ sense the world differently with the five senses of human. It continued the following year with the topic on ‘I’ and ‘You’, discussing the development of communication. In the last year, it concentrated on the relationship between the community and us. More specifically, how our  individuals as a part of our community make it better by reading a book and having a discussion about different topics such as civilization, community, politics and disabilities. 

NKHR staff members supported this program by helping students to lead each month’s discussions. Sometimes they invited special speakers related to the topic of the book, visited exhibitions, or went to summer camp.


“The biggest advantage of Na-Neoul is that students from North and South Korea are divided into small groups and participate in discussions together. We all are from different backgrounds and have different experiences. I think it enriches our discussion and we really do learn from each other and respect each other’s opinions.” 
- the participating defected North Korean student Y
 “Sometimes I feel jealous of students who articulate their thoughts clearly, but I’ve learned a lot from them. It was an unforgettable experience for me to work hard for our team’s presentation. I’m sure it was the most meaningful experience for me before graduation.” 
- the participating defected North Korean student D


When it comes to the unification of the Korean peninsula, citizens of unified Korea will have endless discussions from small daily choices to the important national decisions. However, if the young generation from North Korea lacks the experience of articulating their thoughts and opinions logically, the negative result can be predicted. Therefore, it is important that Na-Neoul aims to empower the young defected North Koreans to be able to express their thoughts and opinions logically about every aspect of the community. Therefore each sub topic of the project is not limited to the unification but about our community in general to continuously practice persuading others who have different opinions. 


“Na-Neoul has changed me a lot. My perceptions of North Korean students changed greatly and it really eased my stereotypes of them. We are different in some ways but we can communicate sincerely and become friends. It was also great to discuss current issues and to find out the solutions.”
- the participating South Korean student B 

NKHR education team runs different educational programs to empower the defected North Korean students. Check out our Instagram @nkhr_edu to find out more about other projects! 



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Group photo after the session
Group photo after the session

Everyone would have asked themselves one of the following questions when they were teenagers. 

‘What am I going to do in the future?’

‘What am I good at?’

‘Why do I need to study?’ 


Someone might find their own answer to these questions by exploring a number of different things, continuously questioning themselves, organizing their thoughts, strengths and weaknesses. The answers each of us found might be different, but there is one thing in common -- a person who we can share our questions and concerns with. 

However, not everyone is lucky to have someone who takes the questions and concerns of the teenagers seriously. 

This was the starting point of this year’s Career Path Finding project of NKHR. The session of the project concentrated on understanding who I am and how to design their future. 

The session concentrated 1) to understand what the ‘perspective’ is, 2) to make a vision board to find what my dreams are 3) to find my strengths and weaknesses 4) to understand what the occupational values are and what they value the most among them. 

It was quite hard for the students to make the abstract ideas and thoughts into the visual materials in the beginning since the thinking process was unfamiliar to them. 


“To be honest, in the beginning, I didn’t see the need to change my thoughts and dreams into visual materials. However, I felt the impact of it throughout the sessions and now I can actually visualize how I want my future to be rather than simply imagining it -- making the vision board was a great help to it. I wouldn’t say my career road map is crystal clear yet, but I believe it will be soon.”


“One of the things I liked the most was interacting with each other and the teachers. It wasn’t easy for me to communicate in depth with the teachers at school since there were a lot of the students. However, even though my Korean is not good enough, the teachers always waited for me to deliver my thoughts. I could think again about how I see the world, and how it can change depending on how I see it.” 


The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai quotes “One child, one pencil, one teacher and one book can change the world”. The generous support of GlobalGiving donors make this possible! Your support specifically allows us to buy academic materials such as markers, notebooks, books to support the dreams of students!

Check our instragram for more stories of the projects: @nkhr_edu

A student explaining his 'Dream Tree'
A student explaining his 'Dream Tree'
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New mentor orientation
New mentor orientation

The flowers are starting to bloom!

As the spring came near us, NKHR started 2022’s 1:1 personalized mentoring program on March 26th, 2022. NKHR has been running the program since 2017 to support North Korean students to strengthen their academic skills. Average of 35 students with 40 university students as volunteers joined the program every year. 

The recruitment for mentees and mentors were announced early March. As the announcement was uploaded on our instagram @nkhr_edu , I received a call from one of the North Korean students, called Y, who participated in the program for the last three years. Y was accepted to one of the prestigious universities in Seoul and became a freshman this March, hoping to major in mechanical engineering.


Y: Ms. Cha, can a college freshman be a mentor?

Me: Yes, if the applicant seems like the fit for the program after the interview.

Y: Can I apply for the program?


It was quite surprising since there was no sign of him interested in applying for the mentor. However, it turned out that he always had a dream of being a mentor in his mind. 


During the interview he said, 

There were so many people who helped me to study harder and finally could be accepted at one of the prestigious universities in Seoul. Ever since I came to South Korea, I always questioned myself how I can return to others what I received. I could get an answer to this question as I participated in the program and became good at Math and Science. 

Now I have become a university student and this is the time to share my talents with others. I thought I could understand better and help younger students who face hardships which I also did. If there is anyone who needs help in not only Math and Science but also adjusting to a new environment, I would like to share my knowledge and experience. So the student faces less hardships. 


Y was selected as the mentor of the program with 37 other mentors. He will teach math to a younger North Korean student. 

The generous support of our GlobalGiving donors allows us to reserve a study area for the participating students and to buy academic materials such as workbooks. The students not only strengthen their academic skills but also learn how to share what they have learned. 

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Math mentoring session
Math mentoring session

It is already December and we would like to provide an overview of our 2021 education/integration programs for our donors. Thank you for your support throughout a difficult 2021!

1. Academic Mentoring Program: 

  • 43 students from North Korea and 63 South Korean university students participated in the program since 2020. 

The program focuses on supporting North Korean students to strengthen their academic skills by providing 1:1 personalized academic mentoring matched with current university students. Each team meets for 2 hours per week to study. Mentors are required to upload progress reports. 


2. Workshops and Mentorship on College Entrance Preparation: 

  • 15 North Korean students mentored by NKHR were accepted to the prestigious universities in Seoul and will be studying Political Science, Psychology, Nursing, and Business. 

We provided workshops in January, March, May, and September. In January and March, we mainly focused on seniors in high school to explain to them the college application process. We also provided information on educational support programs offered by the South Korean government. The workshop held in May was focusing on sophomores and juniors in high school to assist them in finding their academic path along with tips on managing their cumulative school records. During the last workshop in September, we provided extra sessions revising and finalizing students' college application essays and held mock interview sessions to prepare them for the college entrance interviews.


3. Psychological support Program 

  • NKHR staff visited 43 students throughout 2021 and offered individual support to them and their families.

When schools closed due to COVID-19 in 2020, students from North Korea were forced to stay at home looking at their laptops. Many experienced technical difficulties but were unable to receive support. Many also expressed their loneliness. The staff occasionally visits such students to check how they are doing and whether there is anything that they need. 

Whenever possible and pandemic restrictions allow the NKHR staff prepares special programs around the time of major holidays such as Thanksgiving/Chuseok or Lunar New Year. During these gatherings, students prepare traditional North and South Korean foods and play traditional games.


4. Civic Participation Project

  • NKHR staff conducted surveys with 96 students (49 from the South and 47 from the North) and conducted 1:1 interviews with 8 students on how North Koreans are represented in South Korean textbooks

The project was to analyze how North Korean escapees were described in the school textbooks and how the official South Korean textbooks should be revised. Four students from North Korea conducted an initial text analysis of the textbooks used in South Korean schools using passages from 10 books (9 from junior high school and 1 from elementary school). High school textbooks were excluded from the analysis since there was no content on North Korean escapees.

The students actively assisted the NKHR's staff in writing the report based on collected raw data and prepared a policy proposal on changes to the Seoul City government and Korean Youth Work Agency affiliated with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. 


5. Book-Club “Na-Neoul”: Reading Humanities

  • 23 students participated in the monthly program

The Book Club "I-You-Us" is directly run by South Korean and North Korean university students with support from NKHR staff. This year, the program focused on mankind and communication. Students read and discussed the books on Origin of Humanity, the Characteristics of Homo sapiens, the development process of media, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Whenever possible students also have a discussion with a special speaker related to the topic of the book or visit exhibitions.


6. U-Bridge Program: Learning about transitional justice

  • 10 students attended 16 sessions on human rights, transitional justice, international criminal law and transformation to democracy

NKHR’s Leadership Program titled U-Bridge (‘You are the Bridge to Unification’) focuses on empowering undergraduate and graduate North Korean students enrolled at South Korean universities and preparing them to play an important role in the future transition of the Korean Peninsula. The project aims to train motivated students interested in various aspects of socio-economic and political transformation, as well as expose them to various transitional justice processes in countries transitioning to democracy, applying these lessons to the future of North Korea and the Korean Peninsula as a whole. The students are currently awaiting field-trip training in Poland, Germany, and the Netherlands.  


7. Scholarships

  • 13 North Korean university students and 2 high school students received NKHR's monthly scholarships.

NKHR selects and provides scholarships to selected students from North Korea to alleviate their concerns about living expenses and allow them to focus on attending the schools. High school students receive $150, while university students receive $250 of monthly support.

College application revision
College application revision
Activities with NK students on national holidays
Activities with NK students on national holidays
NK students and staff with published policy report
NK students and staff with published policy report
Online book club
Online book club
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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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Organization Information

Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights

Location: Seoul - South Korea
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @nkhumanrights
Project Leader:
Joanna Hosaniak
Seoul, Seoul South Korea
$56,088 raised of $120,000 goal
712 donations
$63,912 to go
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