By Cait Cronin
They say you can never truly understand another person until you walk a mile in his or her shoes. Perhaps the same can be said about running. On June 12th, 2016, as the capstone event for a 2-month-long fundraising campaign, roughly 60 of us set out to find out exactly that—by joining the Kim Dae Jung Peace Marathon in Seoul to raise awareness for North Korean human rights.
Every year, thousands of North Korean refugees travel upwards of 10,000km south to escape human and sex trafficking in China. This year, our team of runner-fundraisers for Running 4 Resettlement collectively raised over ₩12,500,000 (roughly USD$10,700), enough money to decrease the risks of this dangerous journey for 4 resettlers to South Korea. And in a sign of togetherness, each of us completed a 2k, 5k, 10k, or half-marathon along the Han River.
But preparations for Running 4 Resettlement set off long before the actual race. After a complete revamp of our website in January, the next step was recruitment. By reaching out to an extensive network of fellow English teachers and students and advertising through social media, by late May NKHR’s Rescue Team had gathered a diverse group of participants from across the country, including 14 from the Jeolla provinces and 11 from Gyeongsang. Many of us with personal experience volunteering for resettlers were driven to sign up by our changed perceptions of North Koreans, whose kindness and passion for life and learning we have fallen in love with. Others were simply motivated by empathy for a vulnerable population of fellow humans needing our help. But all of us spent months asking friends, family, and anyone who would listen for donations to our individually-created fundraising webpages.
As with any fundraising effort, and, fittingly, with any athletic activity as well, one of R4R 2016’s main challenges was maintaining momentum. Worryingly, leading up to race day, we were well under our financial goal. However, in one final, powerful push, R4R runners united to send emails, post Facebook statuses, text, Kakao message, and directly request more contributions. As a team, we were able to raise USD$3,905 in the last week! All told, 96 donors helped us match the same fundraising total as in 2014, Running 4 Resettlement’s inaugural year. It was a fitting end to a campaign well-run, and the only thing left to do was, well, run.
Starting at 8am on race day, our runners turned out in full force to support the cause. After a team photo and group stretches, we set off in waves to run through Gangnam. It was a morning of smiles, cheers, both participation and victory medals, and most of all, a sense of community.
Surely it is impossible for any of us to truly understand what it is like for North Koreans who face untold abuse and fear after leaving their homes, who then survive a harrowing trek and numerous hurdles of resettling in South Korea. But by raising money and awareness for these important people, runners for R4R 2016 came together to give them recognition as just that: people.
We are a group of volunteers fundraising for NKHR (Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights) to rescue