By Sean Harshman
The College welcomed Liberty in North Korea’s Northeast Nomads to campus on Thursday, March 12, in the Education Building, for an opportunity to learn more about the organization and help bring about positive change in the lives of North Korean people.
Liberty in North Korea, or LiNK, is a non-profit organization based out of Los Angeles that strives to raise awareness of the human rights abuses taking place in North Korea.
North Korea was the subject of many recent headlines, most notably the release of Seth Rogen’s “The Interview,” which caused a media frenzy and security breach at Sony. Some might recognize the country as a member of President George Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” while others may think of North Korea as the rouge communist state with an eccentric family of leaders that threaten their neighbors with their nuclear arsenal.
However, this was not nearly the focus of the Nomads’ visit to the College. The Nomads stressed that it is not just the Kim family that lives in North Korea but that there are 24 million Koreans suffering every day who are in need of aid.
“We want to change the narrative on North Korea, and that’s what we’re doing on our tour,” Alex Forlini, one of LiNK’s three new spring 2015 Nomads, said. “We want people to talk about the people in North Korea, the challenges and changes that they are making — not just focus on Kim Jong-un’s new haircut or nuclear weapons and what generally is seen in the media. We want to be able to talk to people here about what’s really happening in North Korea so they can go out and further change the narrative.”
Forlini, along with fellow Nomads, Will Wisz and Amanda Chandler, led the day’s discussion — breaking down what LiNK does for the people of North Korea. Their efforts include sharing Western media with North Koreans and rescuing refugees from China.
According to the group, close to 30,000 North Koreans are currently hiding in China and are at high risk of being sold into slavery or being deported back to North Korea. LiNK has successfully helped in the rescue, relocation and rehabilitation of more than 320 North Koreans and hopes to rescue an additional 200 in this year alone. In order to rescue just one refugee, $3,000 needs to be fundraised.
Mi-Yeon Park, a sophomore international studies major and member of the College’s own LiNK Rescue Team, holds the struggles of the North Korean people near to her heart and hopes the Nomads visit will help influence students.
“Many people in the world are not familiar with the reality inside North Korea, and I’m not talking about nuclear weapons and the Kim leaders,” Park said. “North Koreans who do anything to harm their government, whether through watching foreign media or escaping the country, face imprisonment, starvation, execution and even torture. The Nomads have a responsibility to bring that information to people, such as students at TCNJ, and to motivate us to not only be informed but also be inspired to help rescue those refugees.”
The group also helps educate the people of North Korean as to what the outside world is truly like. They do so by helping groups smuggle flash drives and DVDs filled with foreign media into the country. TV shows and movies from South Korea, America and other countries, are translated and distributed in the country through illegal citizen-run free markets. North Koreans in possession of these items are taking a great risk just watching these films.
Liberty in North Korea relies on volunteers and interns to spread the word and educate others about these issues. They also encourage those interested in helping to record a personalized message to the people of North Korea. After recording messages of hope, radio broadcasters send them to the North Korean people in a way that the regime cannot block, using both shortwave and medium wave transmissions.
“When you focus on the government (of North Korea) you feel like it’s something that’s out of your control.” Forlini said. “We want people to realize that if you can help just one person, you’re still making a difference.”