Almost one year ago a group of foreigners, South Koreans, students, teachers and activists formed the NKHR Refugee Rescue Team with the goal of raising $12,000 to aid North Korean refugees. In order to reach out into the community we organized frequent events and started an awareness campaign about the human rights atrocities happening in North Korea, in addition to the dangers that refugees face even after defection. Without the support and encouragement that we received from the local and foreigner communities, the NKHR Rescue Team could not have reached its fundraising goal for 2013, and would also not have been able to answer an urgent call from several vulnerable refugees who required immediate assistance to safely reach South Korea. Five North Korean refugees have already been rescued using the donations collected by the dedicated efforts of volunteers.
As a member of the NKHR Rescue Team since its nascent period, I have been privileged to work with a committed and enthusiastic group of people from diverse backgrounds. Our very different set of experiences and expectations acted as both an asset and a challenge at the very early stages of the team. However, from our differences, we were able to come together and create a successful human rights campaign that has left a palpable impact in our local communities, and has also saved the lives of several North Korean refugees. Without the efforts of various volunteers, interns, staff and donors, the NKHR Rescue Team would never have built the foundation necessary to officially launch in March.
Utilizing our personal networks and social media, we began organizing our first fundraiser events in April, and started disseminating information about the abysmal human rights situation in North Korea. I remember being very nervous at our first event because I was afraid that nobody would come or be interested in supporting the campaign. However, my worries were unnecessary, because we had a full-house of attentive and responsive audience members who all cared about the desperate plight of North Koreans. Moreover, every subsequent event was also packed, and I was glad to see that so many people had a strong interest in human rights and wanted to help North Korean refugees. The most difficult aspect of organizing each fundraiser was usually the beginning, when we all had to make sure that everything was working and set up properly. People tended to arrive very early, so we sometimes felt a bit rushed when it came to preparing for an event. However, it was wonderful to see so many repeat attendees who were passionate about the cause. I often saw the same individuals at different events on numerous occasions, and the support that both the local and foreign guests gave us provided the motivation we needed to keep organizing fundraisers in order to reach out to even more people.
One reason why the events organized by the NKHR Rescue Team were so successful was because we always had a North Korean re-settler speak about their experiences from a firsthand perspective. This allowed the audience an opportunity to not only hear the testimony of a defector, but also ask them direct questions about their lives in North Korea and what happened to them after they escaped. I think that hearing about the abhorrent human rights violations committed in North Korea through the voice of someone who has lived through the experience is a rare opportunity that is both thought-provoking and compelling because guests could meet a survivor who has lived through the kind of horrors that most people have only read about. Each defector who shared their testimony had a heartbreaking and poignant message for the audience and revealed that many North Koreans still need help after defection because they must endure numerous dangers while hiding out in transit countries.
Although all of the speakers had an important story to tell, the most meaningful event for me was when a young North Korean woman named Eunju Kim spoke about her experiences after defecting, and the many challenges that she had to bear while living in China, in addition to the hellish ordeal of being repatriated. Her survival story left me with a deep impression because the most vulnerable victims of human rights violations are women and children. Listening to the testimonies of various defectors, while they described their memories of prison camps, starvation, human trafficking, torture and death, my dedication and commitment to raising awareness about the dire situation was reinforced by the need to take concrete action. Their bravery strengthened my resolve to aid refugees trapped in countries of transit, so they no longer have to survive in dangerous and unsafe conditions.
Looking back, it has been a pleasure to work with other devoted and inspiring people as we endeavored to increase awareness of North Korean human rights. I am proud of the NKHR Refugee Rescue Team for meeting its fundraiser goal of $12,000 and raising enough funds to rescue five North Korean refugees and transport them to safety in South Korea. With the groundwork already completed by the initial team, I believe that future volunteers will continue to spread the word about the horrible state of human rights in North Korea and the critical need for more direct involvement from the international community. I am thankful for the opportunity to meet and speak with so many spirited North Korean survivors who recognize the necessity of drawing more attention to this issue and had the courage to share their story with the world. I am also grateful for the interest and enthusiasm of the local and foreign communities, in and around Seoul, because without public support NKHR would not have been able to save the refugees that have been rescued so far. I hope that the NKHR Refugee Rescue Team will continue to uphold the belief that human rights are universal, and the deplorable violations perpetrated in North Korea, in addition to the suffering of defectors waiting in transit countries, must come to an end. Ultimately, I believe that the NKHR human rights campaign has made a meaningful impact in 2013, and will continue to do great work in the years ahead.
We are a group of volunteers fundraising for NKHR (Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights) to rescue