There was a seed planted long ago, and its latest blossom is LiNK - Liberty in North Korea

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July 14th 2013
Published: July 17th 2013
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Cheongju LiNK Rescue Team Cheongju LiNK Rescue Team Cheongju LiNK Rescue Team

LiNK awareness event
One of my favourite, and often quoted sayings is that by the much herald non-violent civil activist Mahatma Gandhi "Be the change you want to see in the world". My mum recognised how this had touched me and encouraged me to help others, 'do what you can, when you can, but get an education first. Don't just be helpful, be intelligent'.

The impressionable 12 year old self that I was took this to heart. So I participated in MS read a thons (raise money for multiple sclerosis by reading books e.g. my mum donated 50 cents for every book I read, I participated in the 40 hour famine (subsist on barley sugar and water for 40 hours whilst attempting to function at school), I traversed the neighbour hood and braved barking dogs and intimidating houses for the Leaukemia Foundation door knock appeal, I made birthing kits for women somewhere in Africa through ZONTA, resisted the urge to buy gum or a bouncy ball from the $1 machines outside shops and instead gave my spare change to the giant Labrador money collection box that represents the Guide Dogs foundation or threw it in the bucket to support the surf life savers, I bought red poppies to support present and past serving men and women, I became Vice President of the Rotary club at my school in senior year, I volunteered with Rosies who help those that society has felt privileged to marginalise, made sure to donate what I could to lifeline the list goes on to include marathons, short videos, campaigning, walks and the rest.

Upon graduating from high school I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to help people! What a noble and lofty ideal for a 17 year old lower to middle class income, white skinned, Australian girl to aim for. Of course, I'm not so jaded as to not realise that one has to start somewhere. Why not start at the age where we think we know everything? My course of choice was Psychology. This'll get me where I want to go I thought. Two years in and I was starting to realise that no, this was not going to take me where I wanted to go. How was I going to continue with this for another 4 years? So instead of going through with honours and masters I graduated with a Bachelor of Science with a Major in Psychology. I was under the impression (like many other fresh off out of the library graduates) that this would be enough to get me a job. To be fair it probably would have, if I hadn't graduated on the eve of the great Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Anyway, it eventually all worked out and I managed to gain experience, and the all important 'paid work' in a few different fields within the human services field. This includes youth work, disability services, after school care, street support, fitness and the rest.

For years I did all of this thinking "look at me, I am embodying the change, no hypocrisy here!". But something the courses, teachers, textbooks and my colleagues neglected to mention was the exhaustion. The disheartening feeling of not knowing what you are really working towards or where the money was going, if it - or you - are really making a difference. The total despair that can stem from knocking on the same doors, asking the same people for money (mostly friends and family), walking the same paths, butting your head against the same issues, adopting the same strategies, selling the same badges, answering the same questions. The soul shredding lackluster that comes from continually attempting to inspire the same people to adopt your cause, to feel compassion, and to also become part of the change. More than once I wanted to stand up, stamp my feet and shout "WHY DON'T YOU CARE!?'.

Or maybe I just didn't listen. I thought passion, intention, and youth were all I needed. I was young, strong and invincible. If only thoughts really were what we become (I'm looking at the word invincible as I type this).

Eventually I reached the point where it all became to much. I didn't know what cause to support, or how to react when people called me a femnazi, faggot lover, AIDs sympathiser, wanna-be do-gooder or shook their head and said 'who cares, I've got my own problems to worry about'. What should I do? Who should I help? Who could I help? Which cause should I become an activist for? In what capacity could I be a champion for change? Should I support all the causes I found heart rendering or just focus on one? What field should I specialise in? Should I specialise? Who should I volunteer with? How could I embody the words of Ghandi that I still to this day hold dear? Suddenly just 'knowing' that I wanted to help wasn't enough, I needed more.

I found my (temporary) answer. I took a time out (also referred to by some as running away). I went to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea. I discovered what it felt like to be a minority, at a disadvantage culturally and linguistically, to be separated from family, to work with-in unfamiliar frameworks, to be judged based on ethnicity and appearance, what it means to share a language but not a culture or history, to live in a communist, patriarchal, hierarchical, homogeneous country, to conform to others religious beliefs, experience information and Internet restrictions, to witness corruption, bribery, prostitution, and even death. I re-discovered Buddhism and meditation. I found supportive similar minded friends from around the world. I had the to fortune to witness programs in development such as Koto House in Vietnam, Angel House in China Among all this I ever so slowly found my feet again.

So when one of my good friends here in South Korea asked me to get involved with a project called Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) I immediately jumped on board!

Actually I didn't. I told her I would support her in her endeavors but that I didn't want to be directly involved. I wish my reaction had been to become a member from the outset, but apparently the experiences of old still influenced my perceptions more strongly than I believed. Alas, I still had little faith in my ability to contribute towards any meaningful change via a fundraiser. However having promised to support her, I donated money, shared the links of my facebook page, asked friends and family to support the cause, and attended her event, where she discussed LiNK and showed the video 'Danny from North Korea'
. From this moment I was hooked. You may wonder why. My answer is simple, because for once change was possible, results were tangible, and support and passion were present in overwhelming numbers.

So what does LiNK do?

How does it, in one moment, transform a semi-jaded wanna-be do-gooder into a rampaging passionate activist for change again? Well, it started with this.

"Redefining North Korea by focusing on the PEOPLE while rescuing and providing resettlement support to North Korean refugees and pursuing an end to the North Korea crisis."

Even if you haven't clicked on any other links, you should click on the one above - $0.25 is donated to LiNK for every view. Really, it's the least you can do. You don't even have to watch it. Open it in another tab, click on to something else. Or watch it, and learn something. Be part of the shift!

My friend chose to be part of this shift by starting a rescue group. A rescue group that isn't just about raising big dollars, but one that is also concerned about raising awareness and changing perceptions. We have quite a few members, and are pretty close to helping someone live a life of liberty. This is us:

"This year, our goal is to rescue 100 North Korean refugees from hiding in China. Start a Rescue Team on your campus or in your community to commit to raising the funds necessary to save a life! 100%!o(MISSING)f what you raise will be used to rescue refugees."

A well defined goal and a feasible action plan. A short term 'reward' and a long term impact. Where the goal wasn't to just raise money, but to change perception through increasing awareness. To be part of the shift in North Korea. Taking the focus from what Kim Jung Un was eating for breakfast, and the political rhetoric that the media occasionally sees fit to bring to the awareness of the world audience, to the living, breathing, struggling, trapped people of North Korea.

This is where LiNK is at now with this new campaign:

You can watch more here:

It seems that awareness about the human rights issues in North Korea are growing, books such as those mentioned on this list:

Of which I have personally read Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha and news articles such as, lay testament to this fact.

To be honest one of the most confronting aspects about all of this was the seeming nonchalance that most South Koreans appeared to display when I talked to them about North Korea. Some of my co-teachers were not even aware that human rights abuse was occurring at all, let alone on a massive scale. To be fair when initiating conversation about North Korea I was mostly told that it was too politically sensitive to discuss. When I said I wanted to talk about the people, not the politics, the conversation was just slightly stiltedly directed towards a different topic. Sometimes there were desperate grasps for a different topic. "Did you know about the famine in the 90's? Oh yes, I'm hungry. Let's go eat!" I was starting to wonder if there was any hope for the people in North Korea. I was also starting to unfairly stereotype and resent the people around me. "One day the world is going to look at you and judge you for the actions that you did not take!" Though I wanted to yell that in to the faces of all those I saw that did not seem to care, I refrained (though it was a close call at times). At some point I stumbled upon this article.!A(MISSING)+nknewsorg+%!n(MISSING)!D(MISSING)aily+Update%29s

I was hoping for a genuine insight, and potentially, an explanation that would leave me less bewildered. Unfortunately the only solace I have found, are in the words of my co-teacher who said "South Koreans are afraid." She went on to explain this to me in more depth. But mostly she felt that South Koreans need to be less fearful. As my sister so lovingly pointed out to me, that as someone who grew up in a democratic, safe country, I have no right to judge anyone who is afraid of the potential impact that a deluge of starved, under-educated, brain washed individuals would have on a country, the economy, services, structures, health care, pensions and the rest would have on a country that has reached unprecedented miraculous heights at a great expense to its people in a period of 30 years.

In an attempt to foster some sense of understanding and direction away from the politics, I shared and discussed these stories with everyone I could. A much more personal touch. Here are some of the stories of escapees (survivors) from North Korea. Because they are TED talks they offer subtitles in numerous languages.

I'm not going to lie. It's easy to be overwhelmed, to feel disheartened and dis-empowered. Which is why I like the LiNK campaign. All faith shalt not be lost. This eye catchingly titled "6 Reasons why Kim Jong Un is screwed" re-iterates it for us.

Lastly, I'd like to mention a very cool company that I was exposed to after becoming involved in LiNK, which was Every week they take on a cause, design a shirt, and donate $7 from the cost to the cause. Golden!

Finally, if the above hasn't convinced you...


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