“North Korean defectors must overcome big challenge once free: Learn English”
Thomas Maresca, Special to USA TODAY
“North Korean defectors must overcome big challenge once free: Learn English”
Thomas Maresca, Special to USA TODAY
TNKR co-founder and National Director Eunkoo Lee received a phone call from a refugee who joined us recently. Her main comments and questions for Eunkoo:
Are my teachers okay even though I am an ABC level English speaker? They must be having a tough time dealing with me. So they might want to quit?
I was determined to try English only, but when I met my teachers, I guessed that some of them might be willing to use Korean because of my low level. But none of them have used it and one told me that it is against TNKR policy. I think this shows that TNKR teachers understand how refugees need to study English.
I am so happy to continue studying, but I am worried that my teachers will be bored helping a student like me who is so basic at English.
In addition to that student:
When we have so much activity around us, of refugees reaching out to us, I think about those “experts” who “know” that refugees are passive and need to be led.
Support TNKR (PayPal)
Listen to the refugees in theory, or practice?
Yes, three face-to-face interviews with refugees (I was there for two of them). Even when people hear us say that TNKR is learner-centered and demand-focused, some really smart people will agree with us in theory, then in practice they will recommend we need to do things differently.
Over the years, I’ve probably had 500 people ask if they could Skype with refugees. By my unofficial count, there have been three refugees to ask for it. Some do ask for it in emergency situations, but very few ask for it. To accommodate tutors, some do acquiesce.
Back in 2014, we had a trial with Skype and also used it during parts of 2015. The results were not encouraging, and we got complaints from refugees that the Skype classes seemed less effective, that there were many cancellations, and we also noticed that the tutors we accepted using Skype almost never sent in reports and were less connected with our program.
I recently started asking refugees in interviews if they would like to use Skype. I love what the refugee told us a bit earlier: “No. I studied English through Skype [in a different program]. But the classes were short, we spent half of the time checking the volume and getting set up. It was not a good experience. I really hope I can meet teachers face-to-face rather than dealing with Skype.”
As I wrote recently, I also ask refugees if they want tutors to use Korean with them.
Minwoo drops by
I’ve known him for several years, he recently joined TNKR as a volunteer tutor. What caught my attention is that when one of the refugees used Korean, Minwoo politely but sternly reminded him to try English. After that, it was all English!
Almost all of our volunteers say they are willing to help with fundraising, but few do so. Minwoo raised 500,000 won with the Santa Pub Crawl and has now set up a fundraiser.
◆Why we donate for Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center – TNKR◆
// TNKR (탈북민 영어교육 봉사 단체)에 기부를 하는 이유
Not many people know about the reality of North Korea. Kim Jeong Eun or the nuclear weapons are not everything about this country.
If North Korean refugees can speak English, they could make a great and heartbreaking speech like Yeonmi Park (https://youtu.be/ufhKWfPSQOw) and raise awareness of the people of North Korea. She learned English at TNKR.
// 많은 사람들이 북한을 떠올릴때 김정은, 또는 세뇌당하거나 세상과 단절된 북한사람들 혹은 연변마저 떠올립니다. 북한사람들도 다같은 사람들이며 극소수를 제외하면 지금 이순간 까지도 참담한 현실을 겪고 있는 국제 난민이나 같습니다. 탈북민이 영어를 자유롭게 구사할수 있다면 https://youtu.be/ufhKWfPSQOw 영상의 박연미씨와 같이 강단에 설수 있고, 세계를 향해 목소리를 높일수 있습니다. 저희가 이번에 기부할곳으로 선정한 TNKR 은 탈북민에게 무료 영어교육을 하는 단체로서, 박연미씨가 영어를 배운 곳이기도 합니다.
The Teaching Machine Returns!
That’s right, Grace Lee is back. She was a junior in high school when she convinced me that she could tutor refugees. As soon as the student sat down, she would do a quick assessment, then start teaching like a hurricane. She would teach but also constantly push the students to use what they had learned. We were then based out of the Freedom Factory office, she was teaching six hours a day, but had said she would like to tutor 8 hours a day. I said that might be too much, that the government might investigate me.
She has returned each summer or winter, and she says she will be back later this month to tutor, no kidding, from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm every day, with just one hour off for lunch.
Sooyeon, a tutor helping refugees on the waiting list, is now leaving us. She was really energetic in teaching. Hard to believe she is just a year out of high school. Unlike other tutors who make excuses about needing Korean, she never once used it.
Youngmin Kwon, Academic Adviser, Refugee Adjustment Transition Mentoring Program
Can there be a TNKR post without Youngmin? He is still saying he is Academic Adviser of In-house tutoring. But eventually he will memorize whatever new fancy name we come up with for refugees studying while they are on the waiting list.
New Trilingual Volunteer!
She learned about TNKR because of Yeonmi Park’s One Young World speech, then she began reading about North Korean refugees more deeply after that. After two decades of being with non-profits and engaging in volunteering, I have noticed that some volunteers who show up have already done reading about the organization they are joining or hope to join, and some others show up not even sure about the basics. Meru has watched many of our videos, read articles about TNKR, and was already familiar about many things about TNKR.
2018-01-03 Korea Times: N. Korean refugees to speak on plight by John Redmond
Waiting to get a full copy of this USA Today article.
I had a fantastic time yesterday, I was the speaker at the Distinguished Global Lecture Series at the Graduate School of International Studies Ewha Woman’s University.
It was one of the most welcoming and active audiences that I have spoken to in quite some time. They listened patiently, interrupted me during my speech with questions, then had plenty of questions at the end. TNKR co-director Eunkoo Lee declined my invitation to join me as a speaker, but she joined during Q&A to add additional points.</span>
Thanks so much to Assistant Professor Hannah Jun for inviting me to speak. We met earlier this year, after she learned about me she said that she wanted to invite me to speak at Ewha. And it happened yesterday!
There are many South Koreans who are hesitant to invite speakers talking about North Korean related topics, so it is a special thing to have been invited to discuss TNKR! One very eager international student signed up as a volunteer a few hours after the event.
I participated in a Korea Times Roundtable discussion this morning.
The last few days have been really busy!
* Interview with a German newspaper reporter plus photoshoot
* Interview with a national radio reporter visiting from the USA
* Interview with an author from Norway
* Koreana magazine feature on TNKR (Korean, English)
* KBS feature on “Bring My Father Home” campaign.
* Korea Times column, “That Black Activist for North Koreans.”
* Photoshoot for a profile photo
* Speech at KOTESOL. “Hello Konglish!”
* Introduction at “A Woman is a Flower” TNKR Global Leadership Forum
It is often noted that South Korea and Ghana had similar GDP levels per capita in 1960, but since then Korea has flourished while Ghana has floundered. Despite the economic gap, they remain twins in one way: charitable giving. In the 2016 World Giving Index, Ghana is ranked 77th out of 140 countries. South Korea is 75th.
Earlier this year, an influential South Korean had explained, like a judge reading a lengthy guilty verdict, why my organization would struggle with raising money in South Korea. First, South Koreans don’t give to charity.
The Korea-based “Helping and Share” consulting group reported that 52 percent of South Korean families donate to charity (compared to 86 percent of U.S. families). U.S. families on average donate 3.1 percent of the family budget to charity (South Koreans donate 0.35 percent of the family budget to charity). Only 3 percent of South Korean adults volunteer, much lower than Europeans (Norway, 52 percent, U.K. 30 percent, Sweden 28 percent, Netherlands 16 percent, Finland 8 percent) according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.
Second, the South Korean government and its authorized chaebol-like agencies are a barrier. They suck oxygen out of the room by being the major source of funding for civil society and government requirements suffocate fledgling organizations.
Organizations in the government’s bottom-level NGO category (voluntary associations) can’t hire staff and are ineligible to receive tax-deductible donations, slowing their development and discouraging donations. It took some time for me to catch on that possible supporters weren’t seriously considering us because of our bottom-level status. To get to a higher level, our volunteer-run association could no longer operate out of the now defunct Freedom Factory Co. ― we had to scrap together a $10,000 deposit for an independent office, pay monthly rent, have enough money in the bank, have patience in dealing with a mountain of paperwork, among many things.
In July, we passed the government’s inspection, but we still hadn’t reached the promised land. My Korean co-director had already learned we had to wait until July 2017 to apply to be eligible to offer tax deductions on donations, meaning our fundraising potential remained restricted (I keep asking her to confirm this).
Third, what about company donations? My skeptical adviser mentioned that Korean companies engaging in CSR have a history of the government directing donations. Add national pride to that, and it equals Korean companies seeking to feed hungry children abroad to highlight Korea’s transformation from aid recipient to aid donor (helping Ghana is the ultimate dream).
Then he closed his case, figuratively pointing at the guilty defendant: “And you’re a foreigner. Koreans think you will steal the money they donate and run away to America.” He advised me not to be publicly visible. If I were an entertainer, athlete or businessman, no problem. I was expecting him to advise me to resign, for the good of the organization.
Recognizing our weaknesses in South Korean society, I returned to a previous strategy I had considered: Build a community around North Korean refugees by having volunteers raise money.
Our volunteers agreed in theory, but not in practice. I couldn’t blame them, knowing they give so much time volunteering to help North Korean refugees. One volunteer unaware of our challenges indignantly informed me that it was either/or: “Give a dime or give your time.” Others warned that I would destroy the organization by asking volunteers to raise money.
Last week, I announced the new policy requiring all volunteers to try fundraising. Within a few days, we already had enough volunteers sign up under the new policy. It helps that several applicants have NGO experience and that volunteers who had personally donated publicly supported the policy change. Combining offline activities with online crowdsourcing, volunteers can give their time and raise dimes to help organizations in Korea expand.
Like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” we had to click our heels to get to our destination. We had wandered around seeking funders in a system not meant for startup NGOs lacking political or business connections, then realized our community of international volunteers has untapped potential. Most importantly, refugees will benefit from volunteers with “skin-in-the-game” feeling more connected after they have helped support the organization expand.
At a recent session with tutors, a North Korean refugee who had been on our waiting list dramatically informed us that she had attempted suicide three years ago. Looking at our “beautiful” volunteers eager to help her, she was so happy she hadn’t killed herself. As she was leaving, freshly connected with five new tutors eager to help her learn English, she insisted on donating 100,000 won. She said it was amazing that foreigners are helping North Korean refugees, even saving lives by giving them hope. She didn’t seem to be worried that I might run away to America with her donation.
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.
TNKR co-founders Eunkoo Lee and Casey Lartigue at the “Little Big Heroes” party, hosted by the CJ Sharing Foundation.