2016-12-19 Time and a Dime (Korea Times column)

Time and a Dime
The Korea Times
Dec 19, 2016
by Casey Lartigue Jr.

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.

From Hwang Solo to Team Hwang

From Hwang Solo to Team Hwang

On December 11, 1969, a North Korean agent hijacked domestic flight Korean Air NAMC YS-11 from Gangwon to Gimpo just 10 minutes after take-off at 12:25 pm. All 50 people on board (46 passengers and 4 crew members) were abducted by North Korea.

ys 11


The North Korean government eventually released 39 people, but held the other 11. One of those kidnapped is Hwang Won, then a producer with MBC. For about 15 years, his son, Hwang In-Cheol, has been asking the North Korean regime to return his father, doing a balancing act of raising awareness and pressure, without unnecessarily provoking the regime, and keeping it a non-political purely humanitarian effort.

It is not often that we get to collaborate with people who are connected to historical events, but on March 20 of this year, I met In-Cheol at the International Volunteers Workshop. An organization I founded with my South Korean partner, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), is an NGO focusing on North Korean refugees, but we also allow South Koreans in as learners if they help North Korean refugees or can demonstrate a special relationship with North Korea. We invited In-Cheol to join TNKR as a student studying with volunteer English tutors so he can prepare to share his message in English and to join our special project addressing North Korean related issues so he could build a team of volunteers to help him with his cause.

For 15 years, In-Cheol has been holding one-man demonstrations, occasionally working with international and domestic NGOs and governments in his attempt to have his father returned from North Korea. He hit a low point when he lost money, and has had family members try to convince him to give up.

He has refused to let the father he barely knew be forgotten by the world. On June 17, he led a rally at Imjingak’s Freedom Bridge (near the DMZ) along with 15 volunteers from TNKR and family members.


Based on pure numbers, the rally would be considered a failure, with only 15 of us participating. To In-Cheol, after doing this on his own for 15 years, it looked like an army a million-strong had joined him. So many people talk about saving the world, but they can’t even help one individual. Many don’t realize that their presence at events and small donations can help a cause and lift the spirits of those involved.


The most unlikely attendee at the rally: Cecilia. She was just a few months old and her brother In-Cheol was two years old when their father was taken from them by North Korea. She says that she had given up, trying for years to convince her brother and mother to move on with their lives. She now lives in the UK, she returned to South Korea last week to see their ailing mother, to observe the rally, and to see if she could really trust the people who have joined her brother’s cause.


On April 13, when we started collaborating with her brother, I posted a photo on Facebook. She was shocked: Her brother had a big grin on his face. She informed me a few days ago that she had not seen him smile in years, that she had hated seeing photos from his one-man demonstrations. Over the last few months, she has seen volunteers from Germany, South Korea, Switzerland, France, the USA and even North Korea join him, in happy group photos as we planned the rally and other activities.


At the June 17 rally, when I met Cecilia for the first time, she told me that it felt like a dream. I pinched one of our interns, then said, “Nope, this is not a dream.” She thanked us for giving a voice to him. She admits that she had tried to hide from the kidnapping. With a team of international volunteers, she said, “I feel like I have hands, arms, legs, a voice. The little weak girl could stand up.”

The news media occasionally stumbles upon their story, driving by to take snapshots, then driving on to the next story and rarely looking back. The family has been in pain for 47 years, marking anniversaries and living successes and failures without Hwang Won.

The biggest compliment Cecilia gave to me as we talked a few days after the rally: “You are the person who makes invisible people visible. You listen to people, find out what they need, and try to find people who can help them so their voices can be heard. I finally feel that I have the power for my voice to be heard.”


We hope we can continue to make their voices heard, that others will sign the online petition and join us this December to mark the 47th anniversary of KAL NAMC YS-11 being hijacked on December 11, 1969.

Hwang baby

Casey Lartigue Jr. is the co-founder of Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) in Seoul. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu.


Texte en anglais traduit par Elodie Thiriez

2016-11-30 Declare victory, then go home

Members of Hwang In-Cheol’s #BringMyFatherHome team have been discussing ways to get more people interested in his campaign. They are all so hopeful and optimistic. I’m the cynical one. In my experience, people don’t really give a damn/pay attention until it is related to 1) themselves 2) celebrities 3) politicians 4) puppies (or kittens) 5) oddball stuff.

I suggested that we give up. Instead, let’s just head out to an anti-Park Geun Hye rally, hold up some #BringMyFatherHome signs, take some nice photos, declare victory, then go home.

* * *

I have talked to many South Koreans about Hwang In-Cheol’s effort to have his father returned from North Korea. First, many struggle with the fact that they didn’t know about the case, but I’m deeply involved in it. 2) Then they want to question why I’m involved. Finally, after they get over their confusion, we can talk about it.

As I look at Koreans gathering in the streets in bitterly cold weather to protest Park Geun-hye, I recall some of the explanations I have heard from Koreans about why Koreans aren’t interested in Mr. Hwang’s case:

  • “Koreans don’t care about politics.”
  • “Koreans are too busy to get involved in things outside of their families.”
  • “These days, Koreans are afraid to get involved in politics.”
  • “It’s too hot (or cold, or warm, or sunny, or cloudy, etc.) for Koreans to join an event about that.

Then I look again at pictures of Koreans protesting in the streets in the bitter cold to protest Park Geun-hye.

Yes, definitely, at our next planning meeting, I will push to join the next anti-Park Geun-hye rally.


  • * * *

#BringMyFatherHome Talk-Show Concert

Talk-Show Concert: #BringMyFatherHome

2016-11-30 “Is Donald Trump a Racist?”

Korea Times Roundtable Discussion

Casey Lartigue: “Is Donald Trump a racist?”
http://tinyurl.com/hgxqghb (Korea Times link)
casey-lartigue-is-donald-trump-a-racist (PDF)

Michael Breen: “Me and My Liberal Tribe”

Donald Kirk: “Media mix facts with views” by Donald Kirk

Oh Young-jin: “How to make Trump great president”

Three Korea Times columnists speak on the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in a roundtable hosted by Chief Editorial Writer Oh Young-jin, third from left, at the Times conference room, last week. From left are Michael Breen, Don Kirk, Oh and Casey Lartigue Jr. Oh’s column, titled “How to make Trump a great president,” was previewed online and will be published in Thursday’s edition of the newspaper. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul



(Donga newspaper translation) TKNR: A non profit organization run by 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

Original article:

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.