I gave a speech and was a participant in a discussion with Kent Kim and co-host Vera Kim.
The speech is here.
I gave a speech and was a participant in a discussion with Kent Kim and co-host Vera Kim.
The speech is here.
Give, not ‘give back’
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
As my project helping North Korean refugees has grown, it has, unfortunately, also attracted more volunteers saying they want to “give back to the community.” It is now so commonly stated by applicants that I am pleasantly surprised when it isn’t mentioned.
When it is, I usually start counting to 10, to calm down.I must remind myself that they are signing up to help. Still, for years, I have grumbled to friends about “giving back” to an amorphous community. A friend who grew up in a rough area said that instead of “giving back,” he would send his old neighborhood a bill, to be compensated for the many beatings and robberies he had to endure as a youngster.
Because some of the North Korean refugees ask why our tutors help them for free, we began asking volunteers to explain. Their responses varied, but much to my chagrin, too many saw the wonderful project that I helped create as a great opportunity to “give back.”
I am thrilled they are volunteering, the project depends on them. If “giving back” motivates them, so be it, I will just count to 20 and get back to work. I make it clear to them: there is no duty or obligation to return anything you haven’t taken, so you don’t need to “give back” in order to join us. This is a win-win situation, with both sides voluntarily joining and making a commitment to each other.
Saying that you want to “give back” makes as much sense as saying that you want to “volunteer back.” When someone gives money to a charitable cause, they don’t say they want to “donate back.” I do give my time and money to activitiesthat I believe ought to be done, as I have done for the last 15 years, but I tune out when I am told that I need to “give back” or have an obligation to help.
The people who need to “give back” to North Korean refugees are the rulers of North Korea who have taken so much from them. They blocked their freedom of locomotion, stole their right of self-ownership, and violated their human rights. The rest of us don’t need to give back, but we can give, volunteer or donate our time or resources to help those adjusting to life outside of North Korea.
It may be that giving back to an amorphous “community” is my main gripe. A “community” doesn’t tutor or get tutored. But individuals do. You aren’t obligated to “give back” to a particular person any more than you are obligated to give to an undefined a community that may not want what you are offering.
My project has attracted some unlikely volunteers: North Korean refugees. In January, a North Korean refugee whosaw my TV podcast with Yeonmi Park learned that I was involved in many activities related to North Korean refugees. She asked if she could volunteer.
I was floored. From what I have heard, civil society barely exists in North Korea (and, from what I have heard, volunteering for strangers is still a relatively new concept in South Korea, too). In our first two years, no North Korean refugees asked to volunteer with us. We now have two.
Another North Korean refugee who recently entered our project made a financial donation. All of these refugees were inspired by the volunteer tutors and staff. Other North Korean refugees who have not volunteered yet said that they were thinking, for the first time, about volunteering to help others. We are building a community of volunteersthat now includes North Korean refugees. It is not based on an obligation to an unspecified community ― rather, it is individuals coming together to get something practical done.
Last week, another North Korean refugee donated $500 to our project. She didn’t consider it a donation and said she doesn’t understand volunteering. She has not been a participant in our project, so it wasn’t a return favor. From watching my updates on Facebook, she felt the urge to “give a gift to show my heart.”
Yes, I am irritated by the volunteer tutors in my project who say they want to give back, but thankfully, their actions speak louder than their words. They have, through their actions, inspired North Korean refugees to volunteer, donate, and to give. They have perhaps indirectly introduced the idea of civil society into North Korea via those refugees still in contact with family there. They have seen a new way to interact with people, making new friends based on common interests.
I will try to rememberthat, as I’m counting to 10, if and when a North Korean refugee tells me that he or she wants to volunteer with us, in order to “give back.” I won’t like it, but I will understand.
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., co-founder of the Teach North Korean Refugees project, will be one of the speakers at the “Building Global Learning Community through Communication, Trust and Networking” conference on May 30th 2015, at Korea University in Seoul, Korea. 30,000 won for adults, 20,000 won for students.
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
During the summer of 2002, I was a frequent attendee of a month-long boycott of a Chinese food takeout by black residents in Washington, D.C. No kidding, the protest began after a local activist accused a cook at Kenny’s Carryout of attempting to cook a piece of chicken he had dropped on the floor and kicked around like a soccer ball. By my unofficial count, there were about 100 protesters marching and chanting some days, but one key person was missing: Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.
The protest leaders contacted Jackson, but joy turned to rage when he told them he was heading to Los Angeles instead, to protest the beating of a black man by police. One of the protestors told me: “See! Jesse ain’t out for nobody but Jesse. They already got cameras there.”
I asked protestors why they were targeting a small Chinese takeout rather than lousy public schools nearby. At that time, about 37 percent of D.C. adults read at about the third grade elementary school level.
A conservative friend of mine who declined my invitation to observe the protest told me it was another example of black spokesmen and their constituents ignoring serious problems. Not exactly, I told him.
They have led demonstrations, delivered speeches, and rhymed many a time in denouncing black-on-black crime and encouraging black youth to study harder. As far back as 1984, the Associated Press (“Jackson calls for end to black-on-black crime”) quoted Jackson as saying: “I want blacks who kill and maim other blacks to go to jail. The blood keeps flowing.” He was alluding to another spate of gang-related killings, one of which ended in the death of Chicago high school basketball star Ben Wilson (Jackson delivered the eulogy at Wilson’s funeral).
Much of it may be street theater. While people have many hobbies, number one in history has probably been blaming others for problems. The problem in inner-cities runs deeper than black spokesmen ignoring problems.
In short: They don’t know what to do. Fifty years after rioters torched many inner-cities, a new generation of politicians, activists, intellectuals, journalists, black spokesmen, and the current U.S. President don’t know what to do about black-on-black crime, illegitimacy, joblessness, Baltimore, Ferguson, or Chicago’s South Side.
Sure, the leaders and talkers talk, even after their policies clearly are harmful, unless or ineffective. They talk about afterschool programs, fully funding No Child Left Behind, black role models, diversity, multiculturalism, black history taught year around, community policing, affirmative action, ending police brutality and racial profiling, increasing the minimum wage, etc.
In his 1980 book Knowledge and Decisions, economist Thomas Sowell wrote (paraphrased with my added spin): If you are a farmer who can milk a cow, that means you can go to a barn with a bucket and come back with some milk from a cow. On the other hand, if you are an expert on crime, you can go to Philadelphia, but we can’t expect you to come back with less crime.
Several years ago, fast-talking black intellectual Michael Eric Dyson led a march against violence in Philadelphia. Before the weekend was over, four more people had been killed, including a five-year-old black girl sitting in her mother’s car. Dyson can talk and march against black-on-black crime, but he can’t come back with less crime in Philadelphia.
There’s a difference between expertise in doing something and expertise in talking eloquently. I’m not surprised politicians go for Daily Show type chuckles. The person who would get booed at an important speech would be the person interrupting to say, “Enough with the jokes, Mr. President. What can you do about it, and when?” I would boo you, too. How dare you interrupt the President’s punchline?
In the late 1980s, Obama was a community organizer in Chicago’s troubled South Side and he later represented the area as state senator. Jackson has been based in Chicago for more than four decades. They have national plans, but I’ve heard that Chicago’s South Side is still a dangerous place to be. Now it is Baltimore’s turn in the headlines. The President did suggest that if his policies were implemented that things would be better. If he could clean up (pick one) Baltimore, Ferguson or Chicago’s South Side, he’d deserve his Nobel Peace Prize.
I recently read that the Obama Presidential Library will be housed at the University of Chicago. If there is ever a dispute with a Chinese takeout or riots on the South Side, assuming he isn’t globe-trotting, at cocktail parties in D.C., or hanging out at his library in Chicago, Obama may be able to join after he becomes a civilian again. He and Jackson may not be able to return with less crime, but I hope at least they can come back with more chicken.
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
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
When Kim Chol-soo and his wife, Kim Young-ok (not their real names), first arrived in South Korea they had doubts about their new life. It was not what they had expected. Worries over finances arose soon after their arrival, and the government-provided apartment failed to offer them the same comforts as their home back in North Korea. Their first few months living in the South were difficult — a far cry from the life they had just left behind.
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/
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?^^
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I think I saw a woman being raped. I had not yet learned about the birds and the bees, and the bad things that can happen between them, so my young eyes could not fully comprehend what was happening.
I reflected on this at “Take Back the Night” workshops and marches against sexual violence when I was a student. For a while I even called myself a feminist.
One day, in a discussion with a leading feminist on campus, a new friend of mine clearly had sharper points. The feminist friend began to get emotional.
In mid-sentence, my new friend turned to me and asked me to call his girlfriend. Then, he resumed the discussion without missing a beat. Not asking for an explanation from me, his girlfriend hurried over.
Later, I asked my friend why he wanted his girlfriend to join us. Slowly and seriously, he said: “Casey, think about it. Two young black men, one emotional white woman. She could claim anything.”
I was stunned and alarmed. I had heard of date rape, real and questionable cases, but I couldn’t imagine being accused of “debate rape.”
That feminist friend knew me, but those who did not, our word against hers, we would not have a chance. I began to protect myself.
I mentioned this to one of my professors. He said that he had an “open-door” policy with students and avoided being alone with female students. He had to protect himself.
Respected, accomplished, but he lacked confidence his reputation and career could survive a salacious accusation. I’ve heard the same thing from businessmen, lawyers, and other professionals.
A few years later, working late one night, I realized there was only one other person in the building, a female colleague. I was then happily married, but realized that it was her word against mine, I would have no chance. I shut down my computer and left.
I am now actively involved in North Korean refugee issues. Almost 80 percent of refugees coming to South Korea are females. Because I volunteer and donate to a number of causes, many refugees seek me out as a mentor and friend.
I help when I can, but I remain defensive. I meet female refugees in public and with colleagues. I make it clear that I welcome their friends or relatives, unannounced, at any meetings without space restrictions.
Whenever I go on a speaking tour with a female colleague, I widely publicize it on Facebook and connect them with female colleagues. Perhaps a marching band with flashing neon musical instruments following us makes it clear that our activities are professional.
I am concerned about them, but my secret fear: I am at their mercy, knowing they could destroy my reputation and career at any moment. I must think twice about every email, photo or comment.
I recently learned I have gotten caught up in the backstabbing and gossiping North Korean NGO and research chit-chat worlds. Trolls and anonymous liars have whispered dirty lies about me.
My North Korean refugee colleagues occasionally cry as they tell their stories. I wonder how often audience members crying along with them have their own painful secrets.
Confessing my insecurity won’t stop miscreants with dirty minds from lying, I know. I would be more successful at stopping middle school kids, rather than older imitators, from lying about others.
They don’t know me. They can’t know that I lost my innocence as a child possibly witnessing a rape; about another private thing that happened to me as a teenager; and that I think twice about interactions with women.
I was out a few years ago with a female friend who for some reason was drinking quickly (I’m not a drinker). Outside, she kicked off her boots and began running. In the movies, the guy would have playfully chased her. In my reality, I slowly walked behind her, not wanting any wanna-be-heroes to shoot me because they had misread the situation.
I told that story to my best friend, he responded with his own. Out at a public park, his girlfriend took off running, challenging him, “I bet you can’t catch me.” She was right. He didn’t even try. He stood and waited for her to return. He explained: “I’m a 6’ 2” black man. I can’t chase you in public.”
I understood. As a young man, I would have accepted a footrace challenge from any woman not on the Olympic team, but chase one, even playfully? No.
His girlfriend was shocked to learn her boyfriend had to think twice about interactions with her, I suppose she may have lost her innocence, too.
That’s probably why, when I innocently asked her to join us as we talked politics one day, she rushed to us.
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.