The American Known in North Korea (Casey Lartigue in Catalyst Asia)

3(a) credit to Josh Schenkkan

Text and photo by Josh Schenkkan

Casey Lartigue has been working as an advocate for individual freedom all his life. As an advocate for educational choice in Washington, D.C. he was well known — notorious, even. With some pride, he remembers meeting Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court at an event in Washington; Justice Thomas already knew him by name as “that young man at the Cato Institute causing so much trouble.”

For his efforts and his notoriety, Lartigue considered himself an activist par excellence — until his first meeting with North Korean refugees made him reconsider everything. “I felt like I was somebody who got deeply involved, and then [I met] somebody who had to rescue themselves,” he says. “I suddenly felt like I was the freedom advocate from the cocktail party.”

Lartigue began a journey towards becoming one of the most known activists for North Koreans in Seoul. He’s been involved in the rise of two of the most publicized defectors of the past decade, Park Yeonmi, who has been featured in The New York Times and The Guardian, and Lee Hyeon-seo, whose 2013 TED talk has been viewed almost four million times. He serves as the volunteer international adviser for the Mulmangcho School, which provides education and therapy for young refugees from the North. Most notably, he cofounded and runs Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), an organization that matches teachers across a broad range of disciplines with refugees looking for help.

TNKR is unique among other similar programs in both its model and its ambition, which bear Lartigue’s signature emphasis on choice. Whereas most tutoring programs assign only one or two English teachers to each refugee without giving the students any say, TNKR allows the students to select their own tutors, and take as many as they want.

(According to Lartigue, Park, who was involved in the program, had 18 tutors over 8 months, and was at one point studying English over 35 hours a week.)

The emphasis on choice is about empowering the refugees, but it’s also “about taking away the excuse,” Lartigue says. He noticed a high attrition rate in other programs, in part because of refugees’ dissatisfaction with their tutors, who turned out not to be able to provide them with what they were looking for. Some teachers didn’t speak enough Korean to properly explain concepts, for example, while others spoke too much. Lartigue guessed that if refugees were able choose they’d be more likely to stay involved.

As he suspected, retention in the program has been marked. But what he didn’t expect was the variety of things that the refugees were looking for other than English instruction; due to demand, the program now offers language tutoring in Spanish and Latin, and is preparing to offer classes on financial planning, studying abroad and how to deal with the media.

Lartigue named this first track of the program “Finding my Own Way,” because the program had become more than just a way for refugees to learn English; it’d evolved into a means for them to gain the skills they needed to take charge of their lives.

With the success of activists like Park, though, Lartigue saw an opportunity for TNKR to go beyond its original goal of helping refugees help themselves. Though the vast majority of participants only wanted to learn English or other life skills, some were vocal about their desire to fight back against the regime from which they’d escaped. As Park and others had done, they wanted to publicize their experiences, either in North Korea or in their escape into and from China. Lartigue envisioned a matching program modeled off of the first track, where speech coaches would be paired with refugees looking to hone their narratives. With that, the second track emerged: “Telling My Own Story.” So far, roughly 10 of the 156 refugees the program has helped have volunteered.

Lartigue is modest in acknowledging the work he’s been able to accomplish, but as he finishes telling his story, he says there are two things in the last few years he’s particularly proud of. The first involves one of the refugees, who Lartigue had taken to India to speak at a conference, writing an article about TNKR, the help that it provides and Lartigue himself — and then broadcasting it via radio into North Korea. “That, to me, is like a great honor,” Lartigue explains. “ … I’m happy because she’s spreading the message.”

And the second?

“One of the refugees told her sister [still in North Korea]: ‘Come to South Korea. Don’t believe what they say about Americans. There’s a nice American here who can help you study English. You can get as many teachers as you want,’” Lartigue says, with some disbelief.

“I’m like, now this program is a selling point about why you should escape from North Korea.”

***

profile of Casey Lartigue by Josh Schenkkan

Catalyst Asia

2015-04-21 I hate “Somebody” (The Korea Times)

No matter how long your to-do list may be, there is someone with an even longer one: “Somebody.” With the amount of work waiting for him or her, I don’t blame “Somebody” for hiding.

Whenever there is a problem, many people want Somebody to do something about it. Somebody needs to heal the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, help the farmers, educate even the uninterested, pay $15 an hour to all, etc. Somebody never quite does assigned tasks. Unlike Big Foot getting spotted walking around lakes and forests, there aren’t any grainy photos of Somebody slacking off.

While Somebody is the would-be-fix-it-all-savior, there is a different figure causing trouble: “Society.” Whereas Somebody usually needs to do something, society gets blamed for causing trouble.

Society allows bad things to happen and doesn’t care; Somebody gets called to fix Society’s problems. I am starting to suspect this is a tag-team, like an arsonist partnering with a fire-fighter.

As part of Society, you are also to blame. You can’t say you were taking a nap or working overtime when Society caused climate change, homelessness or got teenage girls pregnant. You are guilty ― and Somebody needs to do something about that, too.

A collection of Somebodies called on to fix problems are politicians, although the government’s track record at solving problems is spotty, at best. Entrepreneurs who solve problems never quite live up to the dreamy Somebody who will one day cheerfully fix things for free.

I even occasionally get identified as somebody who can fix problems, but it is usually by people who, after praising what I do, will suggest I am still not doing enough.

For example, when South Koreans learn about my project connecting North Korean refugees with volunteer English tutors, I am often asked why I don’t provide similar opportunities for South Koreans. I am getting kinder and gentler as I age, so I’ve stopped telling such questioners that I’m not stopping them from doing what they’ve asked. Instead, I give them suggestions based on my own experience.

First, I recommend that they join the volunteer group Korea International Volunteers. It was founded by James Kim, I was the founding assistant organizer. He’s one of those good guys who always puts aside time to help others in need, such as organizing volunteers to serve hot meals to homeless people and to tutor low-income children at orphanages and community centers in South Korea. That’s a great starting point for getting involved.

Second, I tell them about HOPE (Helping Others Prosper Through English). Edward M. Robinson is the V.P. of Operations/Project Director, I’m the International Adviser. HOPE offers free tutoring for low-income children and also arranges special events. If you are looking for someone to host a Christmas, birthday or Halloween party, then contact Eddie, he was a professional party planner in the USA and has hosted some great events for children here in South Korea. HOPE is always seeking volunteers and donors, so it is possible to help build up a local organization providing free tutoring for South Korean youngsters.

Then, the big finale: I surprise questioners by informing them that my volunteer Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) project already includes South Koreans. The focus of TNKR is on the more than 150 North Korean refugees who have come through the project so far, but we have also connected almost 20 South Koreans (who work at North Korean related NGOs or volunteer in some other way) with free English tutors.

I suppose that I should take it as a compliment that people gently complain at me, for a few reasons. One, they flatter me, as 19th century American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said of Monday-morning quarterbacks in his day: “They compliment me in assuming that I should perform greater deeds than themselves.” Two, they apparently believe my volunteer project is so valuable that more people should benefit from it. Three, instead of pushing the government to do what my project does, they point to me, an American, with a small-scale volunteer project, as somebody who can get things done.

I have been saying it for years at staff and planning meetings: I hate Somebody. I learned long ago to eliminate Somebody from my activities, because Somebody turns out to be “Nobody” when it is time to move from idea to action.

After informing questioners about those activities as ways of helping South Koreans, I invite them to start their own projects. I promise to help my questioners if they get started.

I have yet to have any takers. Stealing a line from Rev. Jesse Jackson, I tell them, “You are Somebody!” You can get things done, you don’t need to wait for the President or me. But I am starting to suspect that “Somebody” in their minds means “Somebody Else.”

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

http://koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2015/04/626_177488.html

Defecting from North Korea’s middle class (Groove Magazine, 4-17-2015)

Groove Magazine has a nice feature on two of the participants in the Teach North Korean Refugees project.

When Kim Chol-soo and his wife, Kim Young-ok (not their real names), first arrived in South Korea they had doubts about their new life. It was not what they had expected. Worries over finances arose soon after their arrival, and the government-provided apartment failed to offer them the same comforts as their home back in North Korea. Their first few months living in the South were difficult — a far cry from the life they had just left behind.

(snip)

DylanGoldby-0004

 

 

 

2015-04-17 Daejeon-MBC features Teach North Korean Refugees project

The Teach North Korean Refugees project featured on MBC-Daejeon and MBC-Seoul.

북한이탈주민을 보듬기 위한
우리 사회의 노력을 전하는 연속보도,
마지막 순서입니다.

북한이탈주민들이 우리 사회에 적응할 때
대부분 자신감 부족으로 어려움을 겪는데요.

이들에게 무료로 영어를 가르치며
자신감을 키워주는 외국인 봉사 단체가
있습니다.

KakaoTalk_20150417_134833974 KakaoTalk_20150417_134836035 KakaoTalk_20150417_134839817 KakaoTalk_20150417_134842251 KakaoTalk_20150417_134856897 KakaoTalk_20150417_134859560 KakaoTalk_20150417_134900738 KakaoTalk_20150417_134902167

IMG_2864

Creative People Say “no.” (The Korea Times, April 8, 2015)

Creative people say ‘no’

음성듣기

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

When people ask which living or dead famous person I would most like to meet, my response is “no one.”

After getting over the shock of being alive again, someone like George Washington might be disappointed to learn he first has to chat with a lot of people (including the FBI, conspiracy theorists, doctors). You may want to interview him, but he may have other things on his mind after being resurrected after two centuries.

Sitting down with you, he’d probably be more interested in investigating your clothes, laptop, mobile phone, the TV on the wall, and not want to explain 18th century America to you. “Sir, I’ve been dead for 216 years. The 18th century was really boring. Perhaps you should talk to a history teacher? Today I’m going surfing, swing dancing, karaoke all night, then taking a cruise around the world.”

Assuming there is no crime against killing someone who has already been dead for decades, my one exception would be to bring back Kim Il-sung.

Korean friends who see photos of me with Korean superstars such as Psy and Kim Yuna say I missed a great chance when they learn that I asked only one question: “Could we take a photo together?” They still think I failed when I tell them that I also mentioned one other thing to the world-famous figure skater: We share the same birthday. She responded, “That’s nice.” That’s when I asked for the photo, concluding the conversation had already lasted long enough for her.

I am not even particularly interested in meeting people that I admire, such as my favorite writers. They are writers, they want to write. One of my favorites, who I met back in 1999, recently published a book about intellectuals with about 1,500 footnotes ― I doubt many came from conversations with fans. Chatting with me, he’d probably be watching the time, thinking about a book he’s been reading or an unfinished chapter in his next book.

Even if I asked what I considered to be thought-provoking questions, he’d probably cut me off: ”Thankfully, I (or my editor) skipped that,” or, ”That’s irrelevant. Did you actually read my book? Waiter, check please.”

My favorite singer is Prince. I have been listening to his music for more than three decades. A friend of mine used to call my iPod a ”Princepod” because I had so many Prince songs on it. Prince would probably be bored listening to me praising his music. He is always making new music, that’s what he has been doing for four decades, so how much time would he want to spend chit-chatting with me about music that he has already moved on from?

People want to meet them, but most accomplished people probably want to spend their time focused on their craft. In the essay “Creative People Say ‘No,'”Author Kevin Ashton writes about a Hungarian psychology professor who wrote to 275 creators asking them to be interviewed for a proposed book. A third of them said no, citing a lack of time. A third, probably busy, never responded.

Creative and accomplished people are often too busy to share their time, unless doing so benefits them. Management writer Peter Drucker wrote: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours ― productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”

It goes against the flow of the times ― people who focus on their own work get characterized as narcissistic. The Hungarian psychology professor was informed by the secretary of novelist Saul Bellow: Mr Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s “studies.”‘

Secretary to music composer Gyorgy Ligeti wrote to the professor: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study.

This is not meant to be criticism of famous or accomplished people. They probably want to spend their time on the things that made them famous or accomplished in the first place. Meeting me would interrupt them.

I’m not famous, but I’ve also got my own work to do, which is a good reason to ignore critics without constructive advice. I can take a break from my own work to read something from one of my favorite writers with Prince’s music on in the background.

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


Yuna

 

IMG_6934

 

Korea Times link

Scan0005

Casey Lartigue: An Advocate for Freedom (Nubian Drifter, August 2014)

CASEY LARTIGUE: AN ADVOCATE FOR FREEDOM

Eyes on the Prize: 61st anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

Join Freedom Factory for a speech by and roundtable discussion with Casey Lartigue Jr. on the 61st anniversary of the May 17, 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The monumental Supreme Court decision struck down legalized segregation in America’s public schools–and challenged the entire system of Jim Crow that was ingrained in American law.

Lartigue, co-editor of the book “Educational freedom in Urban America : Brown v. Board after half a century,” will give a Powerpoint presentation with video clips and photos mixed in with analysis about the lead up to the Brown decision.

school segregation

Donations requested, all proceeds for the event will be donated to the Teach North Korean Refugees project.

-Bank account: (Woori Bank) 1006-201-405817
-Name on account: TNKR
http://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/2014/11/donate-to-teach-north-korean-refugees/ (for other options to donate)

We have seats for 10 people, so it should an intimate event, with plenty of time for questions, clarifications, challenges.

* * *

By the way, yes, I know media people like anniversary dates with round numbers (10, 25, 50,100), but I gave this speech last year, and an earlier version of it in 2004.