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  • Calvin Cho

Bringing Light to the Common North Korean People

About two months ago, various news networks surmised Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, was either dead or hospitalized. A massive flood of news coverage ensued and for a short period of time, the world got a break from COVID-19 news as it was replaced with theories, controversies, and thoughts about North Korea. While the series of news ended with Kim Jong Un’s reappearance, this whole situation raises an important issue about what the media tends to cover about North Korea. Why is it that North Korea gets their time in the spotlight only when something political happens?

Picture of Beckman LINK Members at LINK speaker’s event in November

Whenever North Korea appears on the news, it always tends to be something political such as peace talks, summits, the huge government military, political leadership and succession, etc. The main reason why this is so is because everything else about North Korea seems to be censored by the government. The economic state of North Korea, the social state of North Korea, and the environmental state of North Korea remain mostly censored. The only information the outside world has about North Korea comes from escapees and their recountings. As a result, what the world knows of North Korea is limited to only the political aspects of it. However, it isn’t fair to blame censorship for the lack of coverage on North Korean humanitarian issues. There are significant amounts of humanitarian issues as well as stories of defecting that should be shared and could actually be shared globally. However the media tends to favor covering the flashy eye-catching political news of North Korea instead.

Coverage for humanitarian issues in North Korea isn’t exactly nonexistent; it’s just very low. Every once in a while, the media actually covers the stories of defectors from North Korea but how often does this coverage happen? There’s about 100,000 to 300,000 defectors who escaped since 1953. Obviously, not all of them can share their stories but definitely more stories can be shared than what’s being shared now. Luckily, there seems to be a new force on the horizon: the nonprofit organization, Liberty in North Korea.

Liberty in North Korea (LINK) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping North Korean escapees reach safe places and helps them integrate into the new society. While the main purpose of LINK is to help these defectors defect, the organization has evolved to be so much more. Through speaking events and seminars they hold in cooperation with some of the North Korean escapees, people from all across the world have been educated about what it’s like to escape and what humanitarian problems exist in the North Korean state. The organization has extended its outreach over the years and have really helped in bringing change to these escapees. One of these extensions that the organization has gone through includes giving high school students also a chance to paint this great big picture.

For example, at Arnold O. Beckman High School, located in Irvine, CA, students can support the organization by joining the club. Ever since the day I joined the club freshman year to the present day when I’m serving as the president, I have been able to support Liberty in North Korea in numerous ways. This has included helping raise hundreds of dollars through fundraisers and holding smaller game events and meetings to spread awareness of the whole issue.

Moreover, earlier in the school year, Liberty in North Korea club members from Beckman High School, along with club members from Sage Hills High School and Santa Margarita High School, took part in a LINK speaker’s event. During this event, North Korean escapee speakers shared with the attendees the story of how they escaped their authoritarian country. The stories shared were very tragic and they all had one general commonality. They all began their presentation talking about how cold and hopeless life in the country felt. Although all they knew attempting to escape would be a horrifying experience, they determined that what they were going through in North Korea outweighed trying to escape. These people had to leave behind family and risk everything they owned, including their lives, in hopes of a better future. Through this emotional, heart-breaking, and touching event, it really became crystal clear that these problems matter and need to be helped.

For me, prior to being involved in events such as these, North Korea felt like a dystopian state far away. However, through all the activities and involvements that LINK offered to me, it was truly conveyed how the humanitarian issues in North Korea need significant consideration. Conclusively, LINK has made me realize that North Koreans suffering within the corrupt society really needs help urgently.

Speaking as the President of LINK at my school and as someone who’s been involved with the program for years now, I can strongly state that this humanitarian organization has and will continue to change lives. Although Liberty in North Korea is strongly in America and California, the nonprofit organization lacks the support it needs. If your school has a LINK club like Beckman High School, think about joining it and if your school doesn’t have a club, maybe this coming school year is the perfect time to start one! Obviously COVID-19 may change one’s ability to do that but luckily, involvement with the organization isn’t just limited to school clubs. Just by being fully aware and sharing the humanitarian issues as well as the troubles escaping from North Korea takes, you can become part of the great painting that will reach out and touch thousands.

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