Category Archives: Mulmangcho School

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

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

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

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.
1) DONATE TO THE MULMANGCHO SCHOOL
(domestic) Standard Chartered Bank
364 20 030012
Recipient name: Mulmangcho
(international).
Standard Chartered Bank
364 20 030012
Korea LTD.
Swift code; SCBKRSE.
Branch code; 233644

2) DOUBLE YOUR DONATION TO TNKR
Double your donation to Teach North Korean Refugees through the Atlas Network. https://www.atlasnetwork.org/donate. 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)http://teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/support-tnkr/
Domestic/international/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)
http://caseyandyeonmi.com/donate-casey-yeonmi-show/

Volunteering for Mulmangcho (group)
https://www.facebook.com/groups/181561475317435/

Mulmangcho School (page)
https://www.facebook.com/mulmangchoschool

Teach North Korean Refugees (page)
https://www.facebook.com/TeachNorthKoreanRefugees

Teach North Korean Refugees (group)
https://www.facebook.com/groups/451294051613839/

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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…

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2015-03-01 Mulmangcho School–good to be back

The Mulmangcho School (for Adolescent North Korean refugees) is a small alternative school for adolescent North Korean refugees founded in mid-2012 by Professor Park Sun-young. The school opened in September 2012, I have been the International Adviser to the school since October 2012.

Thanks to Rachel Stine, the Digital Fundraising Director at the Mulmangcho School, for organizing the Sunday trip to the Mulmangcho School (for Adolescent North Korean refugees)

Thanks to regular volunteer tutors Injee Lee, Ren Haynes,Aaron Grommesh and first-timers Julie Meyer Super, Paul Grossman for pushing back the frontiers of ignorance. Special thanks, as always, to Mike Ashley who always brings goodies for the volunteers, kids and staff. Yesterday we were joined by the documentary team from the UK, Edward Lawrence,Andrew Greenwood and Lee Sanders.

I have been the International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School since October 2012. Because I have been traveling and Teach North Korean Refugees, I don’t visit the school as often as I did in the past. Now when I visit, it is not in the capacity of being an organizer of the volunteers–rather, it is now as a donor and the International Adviser.

Don’t forget about the Mulmangcho/TNKR fundraiser this weekend. Injee confirmed with me yesterday that she would like me to speak at the event. https://www.facebook.com/events/1522073321387434

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