They don’t know me (The Korea Times, March 25, 2015) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I think I saw a woman being raped. I had not yet learned about the birds and the bees, and the bad things that can happen between them, so my young eyes could not fully comprehend what was happening.

I reflected on this at “Take Back the Night” workshops and marches against sexual violence when I was a student. For a while I even called myself a feminist.

One day, in a discussion with a leading feminist on campus, a new friend of mine clearly had sharper points. The feminist friend began to get emotional.

In mid-sentence, my new friend turned to me and asked me to call his girlfriend. Then, he resumed the discussion without missing a beat. Not asking for an explanation from me, his girlfriend hurried over.

Later, I asked my friend why he wanted his girlfriend to join us. Slowly and seriously, he said: “Casey, think about it. Two young black men, one emotional white woman. She could claim anything.”

I was stunned and alarmed. I had heard of date rape, real and questionable cases, but I couldn’t imagine being accused of “debate rape.”

That feminist friend knew me, but those who did not, our word against hers, we would not have a chance. I began to protect myself.

I mentioned this to one of my professors. He said that he had an “open-door” policy with students and avoided being alone with female students. He had to protect himself.
Respected, accomplished, but he lacked confidence his reputation and career could survive a salacious accusation. I’ve heard the same thing from businessmen, lawyers, and other professionals.

A few years later, working late one night, I realized there was only one other person in the building, a female colleague. I was then happily married, but realized that it was her word against mine, I would have no chance. I shut down my computer and left.

I am now actively involved in North Korean refugee issues. Almost 80 percent of refugees coming to South Korea are females. Because I volunteer and donate to a number of causes, many refugees seek me out as a mentor and friend.

I help when I can, but I remain defensive. I meet female refugees in public and with colleagues. I make it clear that I welcome their friends or relatives, unannounced, at any meetings without space restrictions.

Whenever I go on a speaking tour with a female colleague, I widely publicize it on Facebook and connect them with female colleagues. Perhaps a marching band with flashing neon musical instruments following us makes it clear that our activities are professional.

I am concerned about them, but my secret fear: I am at their mercy, knowing they could destroy my reputation and career at any moment. I must think twice about every email, photo or comment.

I recently learned I have gotten caught up in the backstabbing and gossiping North Korean NGO and research chit-chat worlds. Trolls and anonymous liars have whispered dirty lies about me.

My North Korean refugee colleagues occasionally cry as they tell their stories. I wonder how often audience members crying along with them have their own painful secrets.

Confessing my insecurity won’t stop miscreants with dirty minds from lying, I know. I would be more successful at stopping middle school kids, rather than older imitators, from lying about others.

They don’t know me. They can’t know that I lost my innocence as a child possibly witnessing a rape; about another private thing that happened to me as a teenager; and that I think twice about interactions with women.

I was out a few years ago with a female friend who for some reason was drinking quickly (I’m not a drinker). Outside, she kicked off her boots and began running. In the movies, the guy would have playfully chased her. In my reality, I slowly walked behind her, not wanting any wanna-be-heroes to shoot me because they had misread the situation.

I told that story to my best friend, he responded with his own. Out at a public park, his girlfriend took off running, challenging him, “I bet you can’t catch me.” She was right. He didn’t even try. He stood and waited for her to return. He explained: “I’m a 6’ 2” black man. I can’t chase you in public.”

I understood. As a young man, I would have accepted a footrace challenge from any woman not on the Olympic team, but chase one, even playfully? No.

His girlfriend was shocked to learn her boyfriend had to think twice about interactions with her, I suppose she may have lost her innocence, too.

That’s probably why, when I innocently asked her to join us as we talked politics one day, she rushed to us.

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at:


2015-03-17 Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) project meets visiting HS students

The Teach North Korean Refugees project met and talked with high school students visiting from the USA. It was our second event in the last week, and both times were elegant and poignant.

Three of the refugees are in Track 2 (“Telling My Own Story”) and two are in Track 1 (“Finding My Own Way”). Three of them were first timers so they had jitters but told us that they are glad they did it.

Another speaker began her speaking career five weeks ago–she has now given 7 speeches. I can REALLY see her improvement (of course, she thought she was terrible). Another speaker is an expert, she was clearly at ease.

We were encouraged and inspired by all of the speakers. It is easy to forget how dangerous it can be for refugees to speak out. Many still prefer to remain anonymous or even avoid speaking opportunities.

Thanks to the TNKR team (co-Director Lee Eunkoo, Operations Manager Suzanne Atwill Stewart and Special Ambassador Cherie Yang) for coming out on a Tuesday afternoon to cheer on our speakers and to help make the event even more special.

One of the teachers was particularly touched by what he heard. He had many questions during Q&A, then followed up with me later with a GREAT idea. So we are going to be in touch, to make it happen.

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Continue reading 2015-03-17 Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) project meets visiting HS students

A Beautiful Speech Contest (The Korea Times, 2015-03-11) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.


A beautiful speech contest


By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Tell your stories. That was the advice I gave in 2003 when I was in the midst of an intense campaign to create a school voucher program for low-income children in Washington, D.C.

I had been influenced from a young age by abolitionist Wendell Phillips recounting the Aesop fable “The Man and the Lion” (in a letter in the 1845 book by fugitive American slave Frederick Douglass.) In the fable, the lion complained that lions would be accurately represented “when the lions write history.” The lion says that instead of the statue of Hercules tearing apart a lion, “If a lion had made it, the man would be under a lion’s paw.”

As I spoke to D.C. Parents for School Choice on September 19, 2003 (I was the replacement speaker for Democratic D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams) and the following day gave the keynote address to the annual public meeting of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, I made the point: “Tell your story.” As I said then: “Just think about the questions that people ask: ‘Will the school system lose money?’ ‘Will the schools be drained?’ ‘Are we giving up on public education?'” The focus too often is on the system, the teachers’ union, the staff, not the children.

My focus is now on North Korean human rights, but the point remains the same. Those seeking change need to tell their stories. The North Korean regime has its books, music, poetry, propaganda, and brainwashing enforced by prison camps and shoot-to-kill border guards.

Up to the late 1990s, the testimonies of North Korean refugees were dismissed as being told by the “selfish” elite that had left families behind. Hwang Jang-yop the architect of Juche who escaped from North Korea in 1997 shortly before his 74th birthday was accused of seeking publicity for himself and had his motives questioned. As more North Koreans began to flee after the 1990s famines, it was more difficult to dismiss the number of similar narratives being told by non-celebrity refugees.

These stories need to be told. On Feb, 28, I was the host of an English speech contest featuring seven North Korean refugees participating in the Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) project that I co-founded two years ago with South Korean researcher Lee Eun-koo. The contestants prepared with native and fluent English speakers they met through TNKR, answering the question: “How can you help North Koreans?”

There were three striking things about their inspiring speeches. One, the refugees did not propose the kind of large-scale “save the world” proposals that fascinate experts and reporters. They highlighted practical things that can be done ― and expressed deep appreciation for our project allowing them to improve their English and to speak out.Andrew Lee, the winner of the contest, mentioned that people can help simply by being friends with refugees, that “understanding hearts are what we need.” That, he said, can be “taking the first step toward unification here in South Korea.”

Two, there were not any overly dramatic stories. Some were speaking publicly for the first time, so inexperience, the time limit (10 minutes each), speaking before an audience of strangers and fellow refugees ― in their second or third languages ― may be reasons. I hope they will not be pushed to exaggerate their stories or to reveal too much about themselves because of reporters seeking “man bites dog” headlines. To the typical reporter, there is no such thing as a bad question ― the burden is on the interviewee to give clear answers and draw boundaries on questions that violate their privacy or family security.

In contrast to reporters and experts who dismiss refugee stories as “nothing new,” the audience at our speech contest seemed to appreciate the refugees for what they are: real-life examples of brave people who successfully escaped from totalitarianism to freedom.

Three, we had the usual absence of North Korean males. Almost 80 percent of refugees arriving in South Korea are females, and our project reflects that. Two of the 10 refugees who applied for the contest are male, including the winner.

As I listened to the speeches, I thought back to Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist, writing that he was “glad the time has come when the lions write history.” This year, at least five North Korean refugees will publish books in English (including two former participants in TNKR and another who helped inspire the project).

In her speech, third-place finisher Cherie Yang, a newcomer to TNKR, mentioned that she was delighted to be speaking along with other refugees. Instead of viewing each other with suspicion as they would have in speaking publicly in North Korea, freedom allowed them to speak their minds and learn from each other. The lions are writing history, telling their stories, listening to, and learning from each other.

The writer is Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul and Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at

original Korea Times link

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In charge, but not in control of TNKR…

I’m co-director of the Teach North Korean Refugees​ project. Yes, it was my idea, but that’s about it. I’m seen as being the leader of it, but my co-director Lee Eunkoo and special assistant Suzanne Atwill Stewart​ know the truth. If they quit TNKR tomorrow, well, then, I might as well as find something else to do because TNKR would fall apart. A problem with working with volunteers is that they can leave you at any moment without any consequences…

So any of you who are interested in joining our next sessions, please please please apply directly through the Website. Suzanne set up a lovely application function.

She has me repeat “” over and over again, and to direct people to the Website. If I were in school, she would have me write it 1000 times.

So yes, I am in charge, but I am definitely NOT in control…

Things could always be worse…

A friend feeling down asked me why I never seem to worry about anything. I recited to her a short poem attributed to motivational speaker Denis Waitley:

“I had the blues, cuz I had no shoes
until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet.”

* * *

Then it literally happened yesterday… I was grumbling as I walking back from spending 22,000 won on a new cord for my laptop computer, when in the subway, I saw a man with a serious problem with at least one of his legs. He was hunched over, reading the Bible. I gave him 10,000 won, which I don’t think he noticed.


Last year at this time…

Last year at this time…

* I had a quiet little feel-good project named Teach North Korean Refugees​ that barely got noticed, despite a year of hard work (proof that success brings both acclaim and attacks).
* I had just started at Freedom Factory a few months before, and was trying to figure out how I could have a positive impact. Freedom Factory generously allowed me to use their office without making any demands on me or trying to control my activities…
* I had just been named a fellow at the Atlas Network, and was thrilled that such a wonderful organization was honoring me in such a way, also without trying to control or guide me…

Then, March 15, 2014!!! It was my first big event at Freedom Factory–it featured Andrei Lankov and 3 female North Korean refugees. We had planned to hold the event on February 8, International Women’s Day, but held it the following weekend when Prof. Lankov would be available. I was hopeful that the event would go well, but wasn’t sure…

The title of the event was “Don’t Ask My Name.” It was based on a North Korean song, which Wikipedia describes as: “The lyrics are written from the point of view of an unnamed female. In a television version of the song, she has achieved a noteworthy accomplishment, and a journalist wants to ask her name so that he can write an article about her. She then humbly replies not to ask her for name, considering her accomplishment to be insignificant in comparison to others (such as factory or railroad workers), who are working hard to build the country.”

But my twist on that was to make the point that many refugees who have escaped North Korea are afraid to use their names because of retaliation from the North Korean regime. We had three ladies who all said they were willing to show their names and faces.

It was the first nice event that Yeonmi Park and I collaborated on. And I was so delighted that both Mi Yeon and So Yeon agreed to participate, they are both powerful speakers. I learned a lot from that event as far as organizing, and am still so thankful to everyone who helped us with it.

It was an emotionally draining event for me because that morning I had learned that my grandmother had passed away, just a few days before I was going to board a plane to the USA. It was an incredibly hectic time because Yeonmi and I were planning on recording our first podcast two days later, then she was going to board a plane for Australia and I was going to be headed to the USA. I didn’t mention it that day but obviously my mood was down, but it was still so great to hear Prof. Lankov and the ladies discuss issues related to North Korean women.

Don't Ask My Name, March 15, 2014
Don’t Ask My Name, March 15, 2014

2015/03/06-07 Mulmangcho/TNKR fundraiser (Refugee Kids Rock!)

“Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.”

The volunteers of the Mulmangcho School and Teach North Korean Refugee project did it. They raised 2 million won in two nights. I hope they can take a break to recover and rejoice, but I heard that some will be trying to make it to the Mulmangcho School this morning.

I’m the International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School, so I don’t have any real power except to send out threatening messages. But as the co-director of TNKR, I can direct our share of the loot to an internship program we are setting up.

Thanks from co-organizer Injee Lee: “Thanks to the bands (Sons of Tiger, Lions on the Beach, Decader, The Killer Drones, Boss Hagwon, Les Sales, Pentasonic, Colin Phils), the volunteers (Aaron Grommesh, Nina Stearns,Kristen Lefebvre, Rida Hamdani, Ben Haynes, Ren Haynes, Angie Ahn), Rachel Stine who emceed and co-organized, special guests Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee who spoke about the plight of the refugees and what we can do to help, and especially Dwayne Robertson and Kirk Kwon at Thunderhorse Tavern.”

The team of volunteers started arriving at 7 pm on Friday to get set up and I heard that some remained until 3 am both nights.

Holding this kind of fundraiser is something we have been talking about for quite a while, but Injee and Rachel made it happen. They led the effort, but of course it took the team helping them to get it done.

And it isn’t too late to donate.
(domestic) Standard Chartered Bank
364 20 030012
Recipient name: Mulmangcho
Standard Chartered Bank
364 20 030012
Korea LTD.
Swift code; SCBKRSE.
Branch code; 233644

Double your donation to Teach North Korean Refugees through the Atlas Network. Click ” I would like to designate my gift to a specific Atlas Network program,” then type in “Freedom Factory” or “TNKR” or “Teach North Korean Refugees.”

3) DONATE TO TNKR (domestically/internationally/paypal)
-Bank account: (Woori Bank) 1006-201-405817
-Name on account: TNKR
-International bank account: (Woori Bank Seocho Umyeon Branch) 1006-201-405817
-Name on account: Eunkoo Lee(TNKR)
-Swift code: HVBKKRSEXXX
-Bank address: Taebongro 70, Seochogu, Seoul, South Korea
-Bank phone number: 02-3463-9596
* * *
paypal (just mark that you want it to go to TNKR)

Volunteering for Mulmangcho (group)

Mulmangcho School (page)

Teach North Korean Refugees (page)

Teach North Korean Refugees (group)

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Defectors call for better awareness on their flight (March 4, 2015, The Korea Times)

2015-03-02 Talking, listening, learning, understanding…


So much going on around me these days…

but I still enjoy opportunities to learn more about issues around North Korean refugees and North Koreans. Some discussions are meant to be serious, but there is also joy and fun at such meetings.

And then I am happy to meet South Koreans who admit they had no idea about the challenges, and want to join up to help…