“I was never able to experience happiness because I grew up in poverty […] I want to break out of poverty. In North Korea, there is no trace of hope,” said Mi-Sun, a North Korean refugee rescued by LiNK, who was featured in the organization’s video, The Hundred #3: Mi-Sun.
LiNK, an acronym for Liberty in North Korea, is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2004 with the goal of raising awareness about the humanitarian crisis in North Korea. Its representatives have visited schools across the country to inform students about their work and tell the stories of North Korean refugees. They came to Stuyvesant on Wednesday, March 30, after receiving approval from Assistant Principal Social Studies Jennifer Suri. Suri’s and Brenda Garcia’s AP World History classes and Debra Plafker’s American Studies classes attended.
LiNK’s main purpose is to encourage the public to take action to help the North Koreans, who live in appalling conditions. The Korean War of 1950 left both North Korea’s and South Korea’s economies in shambles, but while South Korea was able to rebound, North Korea continued to suffer for decades afterward under the totalitarian regime of Kim Il-Sung, and eventually his son, Kim Jong Il. According to the LiNK Web site, due to government failure, the country has severe famine and 33 percent of its population is malnourished. Because North Koreans are denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, they are unable to protest against the government. Dissenters are often sent to political concentration camps, where they endure inhumane conditions, including torture and rape; few survive.
During the presentations, Chun explained LiNK’s work, and then showed the classroom of students videos of North Korean refugees who escaped with LiNK’s help. In one of the videos, a North Korean woman described how she was sold as part of a human trafficking ring. Luckily, her buyer treated her well and eventually married her, but her story served to reveal the crimes that are rife in North Korea. The presentation was followed by a question and answer session. Students also had the chance to buy merchandise, such as T-shirts; all proceeds go back to the organization.
“I had already known previously the situation in North Korea was bad. But I did not know that the government sent disobeyers and their whole [families] to concentration camps,” sophomore Christine Park said.
Many of LiNK’s volunteers educate students about North Korea’s lack of human rights, while others travel to China and assist refugees who have made the dangerous escape across the border. In China, LiNK has created shelters that not only provide refugees with food and clothing, but which help them to find housing in China or the United States. Thus far, 63 North Korean settlers have been resettled through LiNK’s work. The organization’s “The Hundred Campaign,” the aim of which is to rescue one hundred refugees by the close of the year, helps refugees find shelter and prepares them for resettlement.
However, volunteers can put themselves in danger by traveling to China, because in China, escaping North Koreans are not recognized as refugees seeking aid from disaster, but as illegal migrants. Thus, anyone who aids them can be sent to prison for four to six years. However, while LiNK’s work in China is illegal, because the organization abides by international laws, it is legal.
“I am with them [LiNK] because I believe in their mission statement. I believe it is paramount that we rescue refugees, and it is crucial that we reach America—all of her, not just her Korean-American citizens,” LiNK representative Albert Chun said. Now a volunteer, he hopes to soon become a Protection Officer so that he can supervise and manage activities at LiNK shelters in China.
“Nomad” internships are also available for seniors who wish to be a part of LiNK and may want a gap year before starting college. These internships require volunteers to travel by van for a period of several months, never staying in one place, in order to inform the public, especially students, about the situation in North Korea and inspire them to join LiNK’s cause. “Don’t do it alone. It is wise to join a group,” Chun said regarding the internships. “A person needs accountability and support for such emotionally-taxing work from a solid group.”
Chun believes that LiNK can make a difference in North Korea, but he reminded students that the organization requires their support. “To join us in our pursuit of freedom in North Korea, we require no prerequisite—only heart.”
Inspired by the presentation, several Stuyvesant students have formed a LiNK chapter at Stuyvesant. “It’s our responsibility to help and reach out to them [North Korean refugees] by letting them know that there are people who are willing to help,” sophomore Stephanie Ma said. “I can help by telling people, sharing the stories that we heard in class, and just spreading the news about the refugees in North Korea.”