TNKR co-founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue
TKNR: A non profit organization run by Casey Lartigue
“In here, students decide the style of classes or mentors. Our aim is to help North Korean refugees to be independent through freedom of choice.”
A Harvard University graduate, Casey spent years at the Cato institute, a renowned think tank, as an education policy analyst. He still receives ‘love calls‘ from universities or research institutes inviting him to return to the USA, but he decided to remain in Korea and has been running TNKR, the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center.
TKNR is a non-profit organization teaching English for North Korean to refugees living in South Korea for free. One hundred percent of its budget is provided by private donations and all of the native mentors who teach English are volunteers. Some people are concerned about the practicality of its operation, however, so far 250 North Korean refugees have studied English and 440 foreign volunteers have participated since they opened the institute in March, 2013.
Mr. Lartigue, who I met at the TNKR office at Dokmakro, Mapogu, said “We have a waiting list of 90 refugees who want to get into the program. We have many volunteers, but with our limited budget and reliance on volunteers, we must limit the number of refugees who can join us each month.”
The program of self-directed education is designed so students decide the style of classes and can even choose their own mentors. The program is based on self-study and responsibility, so the students state their learning goals and can decide which tutors are most appropriate for them.
Mr. Lartigue explained the main purpose is to give them opportunities to choose educational programs by their own choice, not by the standards of large organizations.
In the late 1990’s, he first visited South Korea to teach English at a university and then he visited again at the start of this decade. At first, he volunteered with Korea International Volunteers to help low income South Koreans, and later became interested in North Korean refugees and North Korea after he read some documents about the reality of North Korea.
In 2012, when the Chinese authorities forcibly repatriated 31 North Koreans who had fled North Korea, he gathered foreigners and joined protests that lasted 77 days in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul.
Some question why he works for a small non-profit despite his elite university diplomas. But Mr. Lartigue said “The biggest reward is that my main focus–opportunity and freedom of choice–can benefit North Korean refugees. I have turned down some great opportunities to return to the USA, but this is much more rewarding and interesting for me,” he added.
Translated from Korean to English by Shin Myoungho
새터민에게 무료 영어 가르치는 하버드大 출신 미국인
입력 2016-09-26 03:00:00 수정 2016-09-27 10:56:34
비영리 ‘TNKR’ 운영 라티그씨
“새터민이 멘토 등 수업 방식 결정… 자유로운 교육 통해 자립 도울것”
미국 하버드대를 졸업하고 미국의 유명 싱크탱크인 ‘카토(CATO) 인스티튜트’에서 연구원을 지낸 교육 정책 전문가 케이시 라티그 씨(사진). 연구소나 대학 등에서도 계속해서 ‘러브 콜’이 오지만 그는 한국에 남아 ‘북한 이탈 주민 글로벌 교육센터(TNKR)’를 운영하고 있다.
‘TNKR’는 탈북 뒤 남한에 온 새터민들에게 영어를 무료로 가르쳐 주는 비영리 교육기관이다. 운영 자금은 100% 후원금으로 마련하고, 영어를 가르쳐 주는 원어민 멘토는 모두 자원봉사자다. 운영이 될까 싶지만 2013년 3월 처음 만들어진 후 지금까지 새터민 250여 명이 영어 교육을 받았고 외국인 자원봉사자도 440여 명이 참여했다. 최근 서울 마포구 독막로 TNKR 사무실에서 만난 라티그 씨는 “새터민은 계속 찾아오는데 자원봉사자가 부족해 지금도 새터민 90여 명 정도가 원어민 멘토 차례를 기다리고 있다”고 말했다.
수업 방식은 모두 ‘학생’인 새터민이 결정한다. 새터민은 자기를 가르쳐 줄 원어민 멘토를 자기가 직접 정한다. 공부할 교재나 수업 방식도 ‘학생 새터민’이 직접 결정하고, 원어민 강사가 자신과 맞지 않다고 생각하면 강사를 교체할 수도 있다.
이 같은 운영 방식을 만든 라티그 씨는 “새터민들이 큰 기관의 교육 방침을 따라가지 않고 철저하게 자신의 의지로 선택할 수 있는 기회를 주겠다는 의도”라고 설명했다. 1990년대 후반에 대학교에서 영어를 가르치러 한국에 온 적이 있는 라티그 씨는 2010년 다시 한국을 찾았다. 처음엔 저소득층 교육에 관심을 두고 활동하다 북한의 실상을 담은 자료를 읽은 뒤부터 탈북자와 북한에 대해 관심을 가지게 됐다. 2012년 2월 탈북자 31명이 중국에서 체포된 뒤 북한으로 강제 송환됐을 때는 아는 외국인들을 불러 모아 주한 중국대사관 앞에서 77일 동안 강제 송환을 중단하라는 시위를 벌이기도 했다.
명문대 출신 외국인이 한국에서 소위 ‘돈벌이도 안 되는 일’을 하다 보니 일부에서는 그에게 의심 섞인 시선을 보내기도 한다. 하지만 라티그 씨는 “내 연구 분야인 ‘자유로운 교육’이 새터민들에게 실질적 도움이 되는 것을 보는 게 최고의 보람”이라며 “미국에서는 안정된 삶이 보장되겠지만 지금 이 일이 훨씬 재미있다”고 말했다.
Some say ‘I’m a Little Big Hero’
By Casey Lartigue Jr.
If I hadn’t known I was on TV, I would have learned it quickly because of the messages I started receiving: “Hey! Do you know you’re on TV?” I rarely watch TV, even when I have been interviewed.
But this time, I was parked in front of the TV along with colleagues (including one of the North Korean refugees who told me “You look better on TV”). We were watching a 50-minute cable TV special about an organization I co-founded here in South Korea.
Being profiled by media is like sticking your head in the mouth of a circus lion. They can be well-trained, even docile at times, but a lion is a lion. The jaws come crashing down when editors take over later. Then, publication day, with the usual apology: “I’m sorry, my editor changed/added that.”
Last year I had a request from a movie director in the U.S. who wanted to do a documentary about me, but I recalled the observation from the late Shinae Chun: “The interview is the honeymoon; publication is the divorce.”
The proposed documentary sounded promising, but the director already had his concept etched in stone.
He wanted to profile me as a black man in South Korea helping North Korean refugees, as an example of international solidarity. I passed up the opportunity, and got back to work.
I recently received another request, from a South Korean film crew that wanted to highlight me.
I stopped sharpening my knives after they explained they wanted to tell the story of how I had built an organization helping North Korean refugees, that I was an example of what they considered a “Little Big Hero.” I agreed to the story, on the condition that they highlight the organization, not just me, because we have many “Little Big Heroes” among our volunteers and students.
After dealing with me, they were probably happy with my suggestion. I can be like a day at the beach — right after a storm has hit.
I resisted their concept and complained about some of the things they wanted to record. I even typed a message, reminding myself not to get up and walk out when they started asking me the “some say” questions. Journalists find others or the always available “some say” to ask questions. Check the video, you’ll see me tapping on my iPad, looking both bored and irritated.
But the rest of the time was fantastic.
They followed me around for more than a week to all of my meetings, had cameras pointed at me even as I sat at my desk typing, and seemed to be interested in everything I did. They even video-recorded my shoes as I walked. It was fun, but I never forgot that I was putting my head in the mouth of a lion.
I often tell people to view media as a guide, not the gospel truth. I don’t get upset by the angle, concept, or mistakes, I tell people: “That’s the writer’s opinion of me.”
There is acting and planning even in reality shows, the use of the “artist license” to make biographies more dramatic and interesting. If the TV team hadn’t called ahead, the gym staff may have wondered if I really had a gym membership, based on how rarely they see me.
Every once in a while, however, reality would pop up.
A North Korean refugee hoping to study in our program walked in, unannounced. Thankfully I wasn’t in the bathroom at the time, that might have been the focus, or we may have had to re-do the scene. It was so unplanned that the translator, who is supposed to be hidden off-camera, was recorded in the scene.
The young man was confused when he tried to enter the door, nervously double-checking if he was in the right place, all of which the camera outside captured. He spoke absolutely no English, but he was there to announce in his North Korean accent that he wanted to learn English with us.
That the cameras were there every moment allowed them to catch other unscripted moments, such as a diaper change (thanks to the daughter of a refugee studying with us). I had to warn an intern, so he wouldn’t open the diaper to inspect it.
And then there were the more than 100 phone calls, including some angry ones, the day after the show aired, from South Koreans asking if they could study in our small volunteer program intended for North Korean refugees.
And then there were the unexpected donations from Koreans (refugees, native South Koreans, and Korean-Americans), who said they were moved to tears.
The final result was fantastic, even though there are some parts I would have cut. I stuck my head in the lion’s mouth again, enduring just bad breath, not death.
Casey Lartigue Jr. is the co-founder of the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) in Seoul. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu.
By Donald Kirk
Time slowly erases the traces of those held in North Korea. The longer they’re there, the easier it is to forget them. Their families, reluctant to invest more psychic energy on those for whom they know the North Koreans have no mercy, give up the quest.
As individuals move on, however, you wonder how or why bureaucrats in Seoul say nothing, do nothing. That’s a question Hwang In-cheol often ponders. He’s long since become accustomed to getting much the same response when he asks: Why can’t you please apply some pressure, do something, anything, to find out about my father?
Hwang’s father is Hwang Won, who’s been in North Korea ever since North Korean goons hijacked a Korean Air passenger plane on a domestic flight with 50 people on board in December 1969. Hwang was two at the time and has no memory of his father, a producer for MBC, but still has a black-and-white photo that shows him smiling as his father embraces him and a cousin. Alone among family members of the 11 whom North Korea never returned, Hwang refuses to accept indifferent shrugs and advice to let it go.
Over the years, crusading on his father’s behalf, Hwang’s anger has only increased while one government in Seoul after another advised him against making a fuss that would only enrage the North Koreans. Bureaucrats in the 1970’s, at the height of the rule of hard-line President Park Chung-hee, warned frantic family members they were only “making matters worse” and “endangering their loved ones in North Korea” if they pressed their demands. We can do nothing, they were told, while the North Koreans persisted in saying the 11, including the pilot, co-pilot and two hostesses, wanted to stay where they were.
Kim Dae-jung, as president from 1998 to 2003, had his chance. It was during his June 2000 summit in Pyongyang with Kim Jong-il that DJ agreed to return 63 North Koreans who’d been imprisoned in the South as spies for the North. Might DJ not have said, we’ll let them go if you return our South Koreans? The number would have been high ― hundreds of fishermen picked up when their boats strayed into North Korean waters, prisoners from the Korean War, the 11 from the hijacking and others kidnapped from South Korea and Europe. Might DJ at least have bargained for the release of some of them?
It is a sad legacy of DJ’s presidency that not for a moment did he consider such an exchange. The argument was always the same. Kim Jong-il would never agree to anything of the sort. In fact, North Korea’s “Dear Leader” might have sent DJ empty-handed back to Seoul if he’d refused to free the 63 ex-spies unconditionally. Instead, they all returned to Pyongyang while the summit wound up with a statement of reconciliation and the promise of reunions of families divided by the Korean War. Ultimately, however, the Sunshine policy was a failure. North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 during the presidency of DJ’s successor, Roh Moo-Hyun. Also an ardent Sunshiner, Roh visited Kim Jong-il near the end of his presidency. Again, the topic of South Korean prisoners held in the North never came up.
But haven’t the conservative presidents who’ve been in charge since the decade of Sunshine been a little tougher, a little more demanding? What about Park Chung-hee’s daughter, President Park Geun-hye? No, “The Korean government is too sensitive to how North Korea will respond,” he tells me. “They just accommodate.” Oh yes, “The rhetoric has changed, but in terms of substantive action, there has been no change.”
In general, Hwang is disappointed with the attitudes of his countrymen. “I have difficulty dealing with people in the Republic of Korea,” he says. “Most people think the issue has no relevance today ― it’s in the past.” He’s equally miffed by people saying, “Our dream is reunification.” Such talk, he says, “overshadows the real issues that need to be addressed.”
Although Hwang is waging a lonely crusade, he is not entirely alone. He’s got the impassioned support of a group called “Teach North Korean Refugees,” dedicated to teaching English to North Koreans who’ve made it to the South. Casey Lartigue, my Korea Times colleague, who runs TNKR, has been staging events at which Hwang advances his cause.
Such encouragement, however, does not mean that Hwang is getting anywhere. In vain, he asks the government to “make a firm rebuttal” to North Korea’s claims that all 11 held in the North from the hijacking “are there of their own volition.”
Now Hwang wants to visit North Korea to look for his father. Might the North Koreans agree on a father-son reunion? The unification ministry in Seoul refused permission for the trip. Unlikely though it might have seemed for North Korea to say, fine, come for a reunion, we’ll never know for sure what might have been the answer from Pyongyang.
Donald Kirk, www.donaldkirk.com, has been covering the ups and downs of North-South Korean confrontation for decades. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.