Category Archives: Cherie Yang

2015-10-13 TNKR class visit: Aishling & Cherie

Yesterday was another busy day! In-house tutoring in the morning, interview with “Ask Ajumma,” speech, dinner, then I joined a class taught by Aishling.

I love going to these study sessions. One great thing about Aishling is that she is a focused and creative tutor. She didn’t  just go by the book in helping Cherie with her next assignment, she  also presented original ideas.

They met at 9 pm last night. It is another reminder of how great TNKR is! We have classes going on all around the city every day, in this case I joined classes from 10 am to 1 pm, then from 9 to 10 pm. So many volunteers give up so much of their time to North Korean refugees.

Aishling and Cherie clearly have hit it off, laughing and joking together, but it is within the focus of teaching and learning.

A great thing about Cherie is that she is coachable and eager to learn. She listens to what she is taught, she doesn’t pretend to understand when she doesn’t, she asks questions, and she keeps the class fun because of her delightful personality.

I’m not sure how happy they were about me joining, because they knew if meant one thing: Photos!

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2015-10-13 stories from the north, thanks James Milne!

Two TNKR Ambassadors spoke at a university in Seoul yesterday. It was a special occasion, for many reasons:

  • The event was organized by TNKR volunteer James Maxwell Milne. He organized it, raised money for it with a gofundme page, and also made a personal donation. In the future I will suggest this model to volunteers who want to organize speaking events for TNKR members.
  • Speakers Cherie Yang and Sharon Jang were wonderful! They both entered TNKR this year without public speaking experience. Cherie joined the program in January then gave her first speeches in February–in a speaking tour across the USA! Sharon joined in March–then her first speech was at the British embassy that was recorded by Al Jazeera. They are both getting better at presenting their stories.
  • The audience was engaged. Korean college students are known for sitting on their hands during Q&A. But yesterday they were asking many questions, in both English and Korean. A couple of the ladies in the audience were crying as they listened to Cherie and Sharon.
  • I even got a strong response from the audience. Korean college students are also known for only volunteering when they have no choice. But yesterday several students told me that they would like to join TNKR. I challenged them to gather together as a group so we could have a planning session to make it happen. I often make the point to NK NGO leaders and activists that instead of blaming Koreans for not getting involved, we may need to change our strategy to attract people.
  • TNKR tutor and coach Peter Daley joined us, yet again. He is now becoming a regular at our events!
  • I was so busy yesterday that I wasn’t checking my messages. 430 Kakao, 80 Facebook plus many emails. So today I need to follow up on many things…
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Continue reading 2015-10-13 stories from the north, thanks James Milne!

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

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2015-03-25 Another glorious day, how could tomorrow be better?

Recently I have had several volunteers and students in the Teach North Korean Refugees project tell me how inspiring it has been for them. Some say it has changed their lives, reminded them to take charge of their lives. There are some days that that I think, “Wow, that meeting/event/conversation was fantastic, what could top that?” But then the next meeting will be as fantastic or even better.

Meeting 1: The day started with co-directors Lee Eunkoo and Casey Lartigue having an 8 am texting session with a North Korean refugee who is extremely excited to be joining up with TNKR. She wants Track 1, Track 2, and if we had Track 3, she would join it without even asking us what it is…

Meeting 2: TNKR Operations Manager Suzanne Atwill Stewart followed through on her plan to visit me at my office to improve our coordination. By that, I mean that she reminds me about my ideas, and puts legs and arms to them. We had a great talk about many things and came to many agreements/I relented. We are developing a fantastic working relationship, mutual respect and admiration, and always pushing ahead to develop TNKR.

Meeting 3: Lunch with the Freedom Factory team. Lot of laughs. The tone is set by CEO Kim Chung Ho 김 정호. It helps that he pays for lunch every day, motivating me to come to the office every day…

Meeting 4: We were joined by a talented young lady who wants to join up with the TNKR team. Suzanne Atwill Stewart and I introduced TNKR to her, then we outlined some possible options for her. I noticed Suzanne taking a lot of notes while I was talking, so she will really know my thinking cuz I just say it, but she tracks and organizes it…

The great thing about the meeting is that when I told the possible volunteer that I would post the photo of us on Facebook, her response was, “GREAT!” Yes, she has passed the first test of being on the TNKR team…

Meeting 5: Suzanne Atwill Stewart is now one of the coaches of Cherie Yang, Special Ambassador of TNKR. Cherie now has 6 coaches and tutors, studies relentlessly. Neither sleet, nor rain, nor snow, not even a head cold can keep her from studying. They studied together today at the office. Watching Suzanne teach English reminded me why I could never be a real English teacher. She is focused, corrects on the spot until it is done right. Rob Paige, former secretary of education and former football coach, once told me in a discussion that he had learned as a coach, “Do it right, or do it twice.” Coach Suzanne Atwill Stewart seems to have the same approach–do it right, or do it twice…

Meeting 6: We wrapped up the day by having dinner on the US army base with some of TNKR’s newest fans. One of the hosts enjoyed a presentation we recently made, and when his wife heard about us, she contacted me and invited me for lunch. Of course, I ended up inviting the entire TNKR team, our hosts kept saying, “Of course!” So we all had a wonderful time. It was another wonderful day. How could tomorrow beat this?^^

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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

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…







2015-02-27 TNKR Ambassador at Citizens’ Alliance fundraiser

February is the shortest month of the year, but it was a really busy one for alumni and students in the Teach North Korean Refugees Project!
Friday night, TNKR co-directors Lee Eunkoo and Casey Lartigue went out to hear one of our TNKR Ambassadors give a talk at a fund-raiser hosted by one of my favorite NGOs, The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. One of the main organizers for the night was Joseph Steven Van Dorn, one of TNKR’s excellent tutors.
Just as a sampling, here are talks by TNKR alumni and students that I am aware of (and they don’t always tell me) in the month of February.
Cherie Yang
•Feb 9, Florida Gulf Coast University (Florida)
•Feb 9, Foundation for Government Accountability (Florida)
•Feb 12, John Locke Foundation (North Carolina)
•Feb 14, Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association
•Feb 28, TNKR speech contest
Joo Yang
• Feb 13, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
• Feb 20, Joo Yang, TEDx talk (Idaho)
Yeonmi Park
• Feb 14, International Students for Liberty Conference (Washington, DC)
• Feb 24, Geneva Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy
Eunju Kim
• Feb 24, Harvard University
Sungju Lee
• Feb 27, Citizens’ Alliance (Joseph Steven Van Doren)
• Feb 28, TNKR speech contest
Jihyun Park​
•being featured in numerous places, including “The Other Interview.”

American slavery then, N. Korea today (The Korea Times, 2/25/15) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

American slavery then, N. Korea today

by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Speaking on Feb. 14 in Washington, D.C., along with North Korean refugee Cherie Yang, I noted parallels between the “men stealers and women whippers” of American slavery yesteryear and North Korea today (the event was co-hosted by the Atlas Network and the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association).

The American South violated basic human rights; allowed people to be enslaved, tortured and killed at will; broke up families; and kept slaves isolated and ignorant. The main difference with North Korea is the American South imported its victims.

The North Korean regime is even worse than the slave-holding South. Slavery defenders could argue then they weren’t doing anything out of the norm of history; North Korea has no such defense, it would be like the Ku Klux Klan taking over a country today.

One person who helped change it so that slavery was no longer the norm was Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery sometime around 1818 (births of slaves weren’t recorded), he was destined to be a “slave for life.” Instead, he became a leading abolitionist. After failing in his first bid for freedom, Douglass escaped from “a den of lions” in 1838. He still had to worry about black spies reporting him and white slave hunters kidnapping him.

Likewise, even after escaping, North Korean refugees get hounded by North Korean agents and Chinese police to repatriate them. Rescuers on the Underground Railroad who help North Koreans flee through China get jailed, beaten, and in some cases, allegedly murdered for breaking the law to help runaways, as all happened in the Old South.

Despite the threats, Douglass began speaking out, saying at an 1842 gathering of the American Anti-Slavery Society, “I appear this evening as a thief and a robber. I stole this head, these limbs, this body from my master, and ran off with them.” He traveled around the world arguing against slavery, as some North Korean refugees bravely do today about North Korea (I’m pleased to have introduced some refugees to opportunities). As refugee speakers sometimes get criticized by other refugees, Douglass was criticized by other blacks “who thought very badly of my wisdom in thus exposing and degrading myself.”

Refugees today have every aspect of their lives questioned by word-parsers and investigative reporters; the pro-slavery press regularly denounced Douglass (in modern times, they slaveholders would be rabid bloggers posting YouTube “expose” videos and polluting Wikipedia). Douglass silenced many critics who are now deservedly forgotten by history with his 1845 book, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave.” Abolitionist Wendell Phillips, reading the proposed manuscript, said he would “throw it into the fire” if he were Douglass. Other abolitionists warned the book “would turn (Douglass) over to the tormentors.”

Douglass fled to England to evade those tormentors. North Koreans outside of North Korea are considered to be “traitors” to the Kim regime, which is one reason reporters and researchers need to use common sense when challenging refugees who have ongoing privacy concerns and security threats from a psychotic regime. Douglass rightly withheld many details well until after slavery ended.

Friends purchased Douglass’ freedom in 1846On the 10th anniversary of his escape from slavery, he published an open letter to his former slaveowner, saying: “In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.” He concluded the letter: “I’m your fellow man, but not your slave.”

Critics denounced Douglass as an “abolition agitator” and “intermeddler” who was “petted and flattered and used and paid by certain abolitionists.” Today, refugee speakers, NGOs and the “human rights racket” are blamed for “provoking” North Korea and get denounced as “puppets” who are seeking “fame and profit.” (Even Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was charged with trying to line her own pockets off the issue of slavery and there were more than 20 books, many by Southern women, quickly published as rebuttals).

Free states were denounced along with slave states, much as defenders of North Korea today highlight problems in the United States. Human rights advocates get criticized by professional talkers for not doing more to help North Koreans still in North Korea.

Douglass, the former slave who later became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, wrote: “True, as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon, but the thought that there was one less slave, and one more freeman ― having myself been a slave, and a fugitive slave ― brought to my heart unspeakable joy.”

A few weeks before his death in 1895, when asked by a young man for advice, Douglass replied simply: “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” Yet another parallel ― my colleagues pushing for human rights in North Korea would agree.

The writer is the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at



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USA trip, Feb 2015 (Florida, North Carolina, District of Columbia)

North Korean refugee Cherie Yang and I spoke in three U.S. cities in the last week. We had a great time, the audiences were receptive, we definitely raised awareness about the violation of human rights in North Korea and the challenges of North Korean refugees resettling elsewhere.

Thanks to the Atlas Network, Florida Gulf Coast University, Foundation for Government Accountability, the John  Locke Foundation and the Frederick Douglass Memorial & Historical Association for hosting us.




2015-02-14 Douglass Atlas event (34)


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A Magnet for Freedom (Korea Times, 2/11/14) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

I’m sure that some North Korean refugees try to motivate their loved ones still in North Korea to escape by sharing information about the outside world. I am humbled to learn that I have become part of that information.

One of the refugees participating in theTeach North Korean Refugees project I co-founded with Lee Eun-koo recently told me that she has been trying to convince her sister to escape from North Korea. “Come to South Korea,” she has been telling her. “You can even study English for free with as many teachers as you want. It is because of a nice American who wants to help North Koreans.”

North Koreans are warned from a young age about evil blood-thirsty American beasts. It is wonderful that I am being cited as a reason for a North Korean to flee to freedom.

Other North Koreans in North Korea have heard about that “nice American.” Last summer, a North Korean refugee interning at Radio Free Chosun did a shortwave radio broadcast into North Korea about me. That could have gotten me on North Korea’s enemies list, or bumped me up a few spots, but it is rewarding to know that someone in North Korea could be inspired to flee because of my activities. I would prefer to have the regime target rather than praise or positively cite me.

How quickly things change. Five years ago, I was ignorant of the scope of the human rights crisis in North Korea and had no idea what to do about what I did know. My life changed in early 2012 when about 30 North Korean refugees caught in China were going to be sent back to North Korea. I began organizing “meet-up” sessions to attend protests in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul. Then on March 1, 2012, I was inspired by Prof. Park Sun-young’s hunger strike in front of the Chinese embassy to protest the looming repatriation.

Prof. Park was sitting in a tent across the street from the embassy. I approached her and told her that I was going to get more deeply involved. Not realizing it was a life-focusing moment for me, Prof. Park did the equivalent of patting me on the head and saying, “That’s nice to hear, dear.” A month later, we protested together in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C.

I later became the International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School for North Korean refugees founded by that lady in the tent. Prof. Park asked me if I could teach English to the children, but I declined. Even when I was employed as an English teacher, I wasn’t a good one. Instead, I suggested to her that I could try to recruit volunteers who, I hoped, would relish such an opportunity. For at least one year, I told her, I would be a “magnet” to the school attracting volunteers. That was almost three years ago.

In the book “The Tipping Point,” gadfly Malcolm Gladwell writes that there are three kinds of people who share information. One, “connectors” are the type of people who always know somebody who knows somebody. Two, “mavens” are the people who know a lot about a particular topic. Three, salesmen are the people who can persuade others of something.

I like those three categories, but my slight difference (perhaps without a distinction) with Gladwell’s lineup is “salesman.” I don’t care if people are convinced by me ― I’m fine with them knowing about my activities. Instead of being a “salesman,” I try to be a magnet for a cause.

In addition to North Korean refugees, I have heard from our volunteers how inspired they have been to have participated in the Teach North Korean Refugees project. Some have gone on to make documentaries, join other NGOs, and inform others about the crisis in North Korea. Most recently, Cherie Yang, a North Korean refugee who lives in America, contacted me to tell me that she had been inspired by my podcasts with North Korean refugee Park Yeon-mi. It reminded Yang that after escaping North Korea to freedom that had promised herself that she would try to help North Koreans escaping to freedom. Inspired, she has now joined my company as a volunteer intern and as a participant in TNKR.

It now usually takes North Korean refugees about two to three years to get to South Korea or a third country after escaping from North Korea and through China. I will never get to China to rescue North Korean refugees, but perhaps the day will come that I will meet someone who escaped North Korea or China after hearing about me. For now, I’m thrilled to know that I have been cited as a reason for North Korean refugees to escape to freedom.

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:

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