About This Fundraiser
When working with North Korean refugees, I am reminded of the Aesop fable "The Man and the Lion."
The lion had complained that lions would be accurately represented "when the lions write history." Instead of the statue of Hercules tearing apart a lion, "If a lion had made it, the man would be under a lion's paw."
According to the North Korean regime's version of its country, the people there are perfectly happy being ruled over by them and never want to leave, except when the government needs them to do so. Even though North Koreans go through occasional famines or have their families ripped apart for minor transgressions, the regime reserves the right to make decisions about how North Koreans can live their lives and when and where they are allowed to travel.
It continues trying to block information from the outside world, threatens to annihilate loudspeakers, air balloons or radio stations sending in outside information, and denounces as "traitors," "cowards" and "human scum" the handful of North Koreans that have escaped its clutches.
But what do North Koreans have to say about it? We can trust North Korea's organized band of criminals as much as any kidnapper assuring outsiders that the hostages are content. Almost from birth, North Koreans are brainwashed by the regime and not allowed to think or speak for themselves. They aren't free to leave to find their place in the world either, unless they are willing to risk their lives by going through what is usually an expensive and dangerous escape.
It isn't easy for North Korean refugees to tell their stories. I have seen many want to stop during the middle of interviews or to have second thoughts after the interview is over. Unlike North Korea controlling their movements, we make it clear that the doors and windows are open for them to leave at any time. If they seek to tell their stories, then we hope to provide platforms for them to do so.
It is the lions telling the story.
As one North Korean refugee told me a few years ago, the regime says it is strong, but its fear of allowing North Koreans to speak their own minds or to be exposed to outside information is proof of the regime's weakness.
British-American intellectual Christopher Hitchens once said that North Korea is the "worst country in the world." After listing North Korea's many crimes, he explained succinctly: "A system where you can't live but you can't leave is the definition of hell." North Koreans aren't allowed to live as they wish, to think what they want, or to leave to find their place in the world without threats from the regime. Even after escaping, they aren't really free from a regime sending agents to dig up information to target family members of escapees.
When we had our second English speech contest for North Korean refugees back in August 2015, it happened to coincide with the deadline North Korea had set that day. The regime was threatening to blow up loudspeakers on the southern side of the peninsula. Our contest proceeded as planned, and the deadline came and went without any destruction. It was a reminder, however, that the North Korean regime continues trying to block information from the outside world and that speaking out comes with risks for refugees that those of us born outside North Korea never have to consider.
Aesop didn't write about North Koreans, but their stories could fit in nicely in the story of "The Man and Lion," with the other viewpoint being considered. Today will be an opportunity for more voices from the North to be heard, not just one voice from the regime.
About Voices from the North
During 2021, the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR) will be focused on the "Voices from the North" project. The major activities of the project will be partnering with North Korean refugees who seek to:
* publish books in English.
* become more engaged with public speaking.
* participate in at least one English speech contest.
* speak at an international forum.
* share their insights in roundtable discussions.
If you would like to hear a variety of North Korean stories, become a monthly donor to this special project.
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TNKR will be holding its 12th English speech contest on February 28, 2021. You can check here for updates: