English speech contest set for NK refugees (The Korea Times, 2/25/15)

English speech contest set for NK refugees 

By John Redmond

A volunteer group, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), will host an English speech contest for North Korean refugees at Euljiro-dong Community Center in Seoul, Saturday.

At the event, 10 North Korean refugees who are students and alumni of the (TNKR) project will give speeches in English, answering the question “How can you help North Koreans?”

The participants are members of TNKR’s Track 1 “Finding My Own Way” and Track 2 “Telling My Own Story,” parts of the project co-founded in early 2013 by South Korean Lee Eun-koo and American Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Started in March 2013, TNKR has regular monthly sessions. It has so far held 24 sessions ― 22 in English and one in Spanish. The program boasts 156 refugees with 216 volunteers.

“Refugees can study English with as many tutors as they can handle. Park Yeon-mi was in the project last year, she had 18 tutors in eight months,” said Lartigue, Jr. in an email interview.

The prizes will comprise a grand prize of 1 million won, a second place prize with 500,000 won ($450), a third place prize of 100,000 won and an honorable mention prize with 50,000 won.

Co- director, Lartigue Jr., a fellow of Atlas Network since 2013, lives in South Korea where he is the director for international relations for Freedom Factory Co. In addition, he is the international adviser to the Mulmangcho School (for adolescent North Korean refugees) in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province.

The contest will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 28 and 10,000-won donations are suggested.

To get to the Euljiro-dong Community Center, leave Euljiro 3-ga Subway Station at exit 3. Turn right at the first alley (about five seconds after you exit the subway and turn left at the first small street and the center will be on your left across the street, you will see Staz Hotel.

To attend the contest or join TNKR as a volunteer English tutor or speech coach, email TNKR.secretary@gmail.com. Pay for tickets at Woori Bank account number 1006-201-405817 (account name TNKR).

For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/317168611817513/.

jan 24 group photo
Members of Teach North Korean Refugees pose for a picture with the volunteer group’s co-founder Casey Lartigue, Jr., third from left on the front row, in the Mulmangcho Human Rights Institute in Bangbae-dong, southern Seoul, Jan. 27. / Courtesy of Casey Lartigue Jr.


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  CJL@post.harvard.edu



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2015-02-17 Turn DC into a sea of fire, please (CSIS conference)

Item #1: It is snowing in Washington, DC, the city government is closed, the streets are covered with snow.
Item #2: The Center for Strategic and International Studies is holding a day-long conference: “North Korean Human Rights: The Road Ahead.”
Item #3: The North Korean government threatened to respond “very strongly” if the conference gets held. (Yes, it has started).

Conclusion: Yes, please, North Korean government, turn D.C. into a sea of fire. So cold, so much snow here…

I am now at the conference, bumping into many friends and colleagues. Even one of the Teach North Korean Refugee students is here. She looked so happy, it was wonderful to see her.

This kind of conference reminds me why I don’t have to worry about North Korea targeting me. There are so many more prominent people. But I guess I should worry when so many of North Korea’s enemies are gathered together like this….

More updates later, as long as the DPRK doesn’t “very strongly” bomb the building and destroy my Wi-fi connection…

with Blaine Harden, author of Camp 14. Not only did he recall that I moderated a session with him and Shin Dong-hyuk in 2013, but he praised my organization Teach North Korean Refugees and said he follows our activities on Facebook.

Continue reading 2015-02-17 Turn DC into a sea of fire, please (CSIS conference)

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.




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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: CJL@post.harvard.edu.

casey_lartigue_jr profile photo to upload

2015-02-05 TNKR orientation

We had another great group come out tonight for a Teach North Korean Refugees Project orientation. I am learning lessons every time, and tonight’s big lesson for me: Encourage the volunteers to follow up with us.

We got lucky because one volunteer is going to help us track the volunteers from these informal orientations. That will make it easier for us to match people.

I have let the TNKR-FAN Ambassadors know that we have coaches on stand-by, waiting… almost complaining that they can’t get started ASAP. 🙂

All of those volunteers expressed their thanks that they have an opportunity to help North Korean refugees tell their stories. It was wonderful that so many of them came out on a Thursday night after work to listen to me outline what TNKR is about.

I may not always express it very well, but I try to tell the volunteers that I am well-aware that the project could not exist without them. I’m only one man, and we have been lucky to have now had more than 200 volunteers  join the project.

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Advice for Kim Jong-un? (Korea Times, January 28, 2015) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Advice for Kim Jong-un?

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

I was recently asked by an expert on North Korea what I would tell dictator Kim Jong-un if I had a chance to meet him.

My response: “Nothing.”

As I explained to my baffled colleague: “Do you think I could convince KFC to stop killing chickens? The mafia to stop committing crime? Kim Jong-un is in charge of a country, treating 24 million people like they are his personal property. His wonderful life depends on controlling, terrorizing, brainwashing and extracting wealth from North Koreans.”

And vice versa. There is nothing the third dictator of North Korea could tell me that could get me to support his system. If I did start lecturing him about the right of locomotion or respect for individual autonomy, he’d probably interrupt me to ask: “Which country are you in charge of where you make your magic happen?”

Like my colleague, North Korea experts may want to give the North Korean dictator a piece of their minds. While the talkers debate, I would suggest that the mere mortals among us who would like to engage in practical action in our lifetimes check out the call to action paper “Light Through the Darkness” issued by the George W. Bush Institute.

Victor Cha, Fellow in Human Freedom at the institute and author of the paper, outlines six main areas for “improving the human condition in North Korea,” recommending specific actions. They include breaking through North Korea’s information barriers, engaging and supporting U.S.-based escapees and raising global awareness. The paper makes specific recommendations for individuals, organizations, governments and non-experts. The many bullet points could keep NGOs looking to engage in practical action busy for years or decades to come.

A beautiful thing about Cha’s paper is that it encourages people to focus on actions, not words of wisdom for the North Korean dictator. When I listen to the experts talk about North Korea, they seem to be having life-and-death discussions over which policy is correct. With so many options available, it would be like having a heated argument to resolve the “apples versus oranges” debate while at a buffet.

That’s why Cha’s paper goes against the grain when it comes to North Korean issues. The approach of the paper is to let a thousand flowers bloom rather than to debate about a particular policy in isolation. Analysts will engage in endless verbal fisticuffs, for example, over whether air balloons being sent into North Korea can topple the regime. As a stand-alone action, no, it can’t, anymore than humanitarian assistance, tourism, increased engagement, a peace treaty or sanctions can. That kind of snapshot analysis, isolating just one part when there are many moving, would be like concluding that tires are ineffective because, by themselves, they can’t make a car move.

As Cha writes: “Thus, it is not a question of choice ― a new approach to North Korean human rights must operate on all tracks simultaneously to have the most effect.” Some can focus on the 24 million people in North Korea, some can focus on helping North Korean refugees on the run in China and other countries, and others can focus on helping North Korean resettle and adjust. It isn’t hypocrisy to focus one’s limited time and resources on just one. There doesn’t have to be agreement, in advance, about which policy or approach is correct when there is so much to do, different people have different skills to get things done and we can’t know in advance which will work (or who has the ability to make the “golden key” or “silver bullet” happen).

It is often said that there is a “marketplace of ideas.”Arguments can be useful, stimulating and invigorating, but we don’t have to wait for experts to come to agreement before doing what we can. There needs to be a separate “marketplace of action.”Anyone who wants to engage in action, but is not sure where to start, can check out Cha’s paper.

The experts will continue to debate which policy is correct, I know. I’d like to remind them of something objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand said when asked by a student: “What should be done about the poor?” Rand responded curtly: “If you want to help them, you won’t be stopped.”

It sounds harsh, but it is a point that needs to be made to various researchers and activists debating about what to do about North Korea, that they won’t be stopped, except by government in some cases, from putting legs and arms to their ideas. If they look through the Bush Institute report and find something practical they can do, I promise that when Kim Jong-un asks me for advice, I will tell him not to stop them.

The writer is 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: CJL@post.harvard.edu

Original Korea Times link,

2015-01-24 Teach North Korean Refugees, “Finding My Own Way,” session 22

In March 2013, Lee Eunkoo and Casey Lartigue co-founded the Teach North Korean Refugees Project–at that time, we called it English Matching. The point was to match North Korean Refugees with volunteer English teachers. This grew out of my experience with being 1) part of the team cheering for Hyeonseo Lee as she developed into being an international speaker and 2) being the International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School. Since then, we have matched 156 North Korean refugees with 216 volunteer English tutors. In addition, we have also matched 12 South Korean volunteers (who help North Korean refugees) with volunteer English tutors.

Yesterday we had our 22nd English matching session (we have also had 1 Spanish & Latin and 1 “Track 2” session). Our team has grown beyond just Eunkoo and myself.Suzanne Atwill Stewart is our Special Assistant, her presence has really allowed us to expand our activities/allowed me to go wild. Sodam Jeong is our Academic Adviser.Angela Miller is taking over as our Party Planner (or as I say, “Minister of Fun”). Others who previously have been part of the TNKR volunteer management team have been Joo Yeon Cho, Victoria Oh, Yeonhee Han and Yeonmi Park, each helped us expand TNKR to make it what it is now. Our honorary development team is highlighted by Andrew Soaresand Pam Davidson. Sung Hee Ko and Julie Ouziyo have been supporters from the moment they heard about us. Mike Ashley has never been one of our TNKR tutors, but that doesn’t stop him from donating money and computers The Mulmangcho School has been allowing us to use their space since June 2013. We now have numerous people donating to us, talking positively about the project, and adding value.

I am thankful and honored by the praise we get, but I know I couldn’t do this without the team members who have volunteered. And of course, for all our magical organizing, we certainly couldn’t do it without the volunteer tutors. Yesterday we were joined by Ren Haynes, Van SD Hur, Ben Engel (returnee), Ashley Zelina, Audie Wilkinson, Renee Kardel, Kristi Cashin, Seán Brophy, Julie Meyer Super, Clair Devine, Laughlin McKee.

Some misc things about yesterday and the future:
* 3 of the 11 volunteers are from Minnesota.
* 7 from the USA, 3 from the UK area (Ireland and Scotland), 1 from South Korea (as a reminder, we welcome different nationalities and accents and bilingual speakers are always welcome).
* We ask for disclosure–one volunteer is interested in doing a video project out of this. We welcome such as long as we are informed and I’m not asked to do too much about it.^^
* Ben was our one returning tutor. If I recall correctly, four of the 8 refugees were also returning.
* In the future, we are planning to do separate orientations in advance. This will give the tutors more time to discuss the project with us, so we don’t have to rush to get to the matching session. As I said yesterday, our orientation is like the process of waiting in line at an amusement park, and then the two minute ride off matching which happens rather quickly.
* All of the tutors got selected yesterday. We worry every time that someone might not get selected–although, from what I have heard, the tutors worry even more than we do! We try to let in as many tutors and refugees as possible, but have the reality of space and time…

We still have many challenges and are always looking for help. This started as “English Matching” because we wanted good pairs for studying. It became “Teach North Korean Refugees” because (eventually people will catch on that) we want people to teach what they know, what they can, or what they think they can help North Korean refugees with.

Check out our Website: http://www.teachnorthkoreanrefugees.org/

Supporters without borders just wrote a love note about us.

to support us

TNKR Speech contest on 2/28

TNKR Facebook group

wrap up in Korean (at Dream Makers for North Korea site)

wrap up in Korea (Mulmangcho Website)

Volunteering for Mulmangcho (to teach NK refugee adolescents)

Continue reading 2015-01-24 Teach North Korean Refugees, “Finding My Own Way,” session 22