Dazzling lights shimmer in the distance. What seems like an array of suns lines up and sparkles like twinkling stars. Though the brightness was a forbidden scene for some, Hyeon Seo Lee found inspiration, a motivation for her leaving home to an unforeseeable future.
Korea International School (KIS) held its second annual Human Rights Week in which groups of students focused their efforts on achieving one specific type of social justice. This year, KIS selected a topic of growing interest in Korean society: North Korean human rights.
In an effort to further empower students with more knowledge and ignite their passion to apply their learning to the world, we had the opportunity to listen to Hyeon Seo Lee and Sokeel Park.
Hyeon Seo Lee, a North Korean defector who is now an activist in South Korea, gave students a first-hand account of what she experienced as she escaped from North Korea to South Korea. She claims that the term ‘human rights’ is a novel term to her because it is not something North Korean civilians are allowed to possess. In fact, they are entitled to no basic human rights due to the tyrannical Kim Jong Un. One prevalent way of sustaining North Korean civilians’ reverence towards the Kim regime is through the manipulation of textbooks to contain false information. Lee further explains how because of the manipulations, she often views North Koreans as “robots” who have no feelings even when there are people dying on the street.
Furthermore, Lee asked the students to take part in the issue. She explained that students like us can truly make a difference by supporting NGOs that can help those trying to cross the border. However, she cautions that we should avoid working directly with the North Korean government since it can bring further misunderstandings and conflicts. She also noted that it is important for us South Koreans to understand the extensive time required tro bridge the gap between the two North and South
Sokeel Park, a researcher at the Liberty in North Korea organization, brought another perspective on the issue, informing us that it is vital for us to prepare for the day when North Korea decides to open up to the rest of the world. Nevertheless, Park strongly believes that North Korean refugees are “holders of their own problems” as they are the only ones who have the capacity to move in and out of the border and make a change. While offering a helping hand, we also need to have a understanding of their culture and customs in order to preclude “unnecessary failures and friction.” Like Lee, Park maintained that to help alleviate the problem, students can join organizations or spread awareness through any other means, whether that is at the local or international level.
As students, we may assume that we are incapable of making an impact on our world. Yet the two guest speakers at KIS proved to students that there are vast opportunities available that ultimately could make a significant change. They have inspired us to use the resources available to cooperate with one another and build a better society.