On behalf of Lumen, I am very excited to launch our first annual Open Call for Ideas. If you are interested in information freedom, check out our link and submit an idea: https://www.lumen.global/lumen-2020-open-call
At a popular meeting spot inside the British Museum in London (usually next to the lion statue, which is behind these brilliant protest signage), the museum set up an area where children can create and share what they are protesting. Take a closer look at these — they will definitely give you hope for tomorrow (and a few chuckles as well).
Just saw this online and hope students will apply for this awesome scholarship.
“Columbia University has launched a scholarship program to support individuals who have been displaced as a result of the conflict in Syria. These students will receive full tuition, housing, travel, and living assistance while pursuing select undergraduate degrees at Columbia University. Applicants must have been displaced by the conflict in Syria, and currently residing in Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey, or residing under Temporary Protected Status in the US. Students will begin their studies in fall 2018. ”
I’m excited to share that LUMEN has launched! With a shared passion for increasing information flow into and out of North Korea, our stellar team will continue to quietly work hard to mobilize cutting edge ideas, technologies, and and big thinking to make our world accessible to the North Korean people. If you are interested in contributing to our work, please reach out! www.lumen.global
The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict is putting on a free seven-week online course titled ” “Civil Resistance Struggles: How Ordinary People Win Rights, Freedom, and Justice.” There are 50 spots for people all over the world, and applications are due on February 8, 2018. The course’s content is particularly relevant these days, when the power of ordinary citizens and people need to be exercised more than ever.
ICNC and the people who run it do really wonderful work, and I encourage you to check it out! https://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/apply-participant-led-online-course-civil-resistance/
Hi all! For my Oxford half marathon that I’m running on October 8, I’m raising money for the Terrence Higgins Trust. Their mission is to end the transmission of HIV in the UK, and to enable people with HIV to live full lives (for more, click on this link) I’m aiming to raise a minimum of 375 pounds. Please consider donating! http://uk.virginmoneygiving.c
*Update as of October 5 — I sprained my ankle while running this past weekend. I will certainly still participate in the race on Sunday, but I’ll be quite slow!
On March 22, Member of EU Parliament Lazslo Tokes hosted an event at the EU Parliament on the power of information in North Korea. He played a big role in sparking the Romanian Revolution in 1989, and hsa been very active in human rights affairs in the EU Parliament. Willy Fautre, the director of the Human Rights without Frontiers organized the panelists and the event drew almost 100 attendees to discuss this subject. While I spoke of the importance of information getting INTO North Korea, Mr. Do spoke (to my left) spoke about the importance of information getting OUT of North Korea.
Mr. Do, a South Korean activist for human rights in North Korea, helped arrange to smuggle out what is known to be the first work of fiction written by a North Korean dissident currently living inside North Korea. That original manuscript was smuggled out of North Korea, passed through China, and arrived safely into South Korea. “The Accusation” is written by Bandi (the North Korean author’s pen name) and has been translated into many languages, including English. For more on this, please check out a recent New York Times article about the book.
Professor Remco Breuker from Leiden University spoke about his research findings on North Korean forced laborers in numerous countries. Not only are there North Korean workers in the EU, but they are working on projects that are paid for by the EU. For more fascinating reading on Professor Brueker’s research, read his report.
A movie (that I have yet to see, but has been repeatedly recommended to me) brings together all the elements of this blog post: CHUCK NORRIS VS. COMMUNISM. Information access, Romanian revolution, North Korea, Hollywood movies, activists, Christians and the Church all wrapped up into one movie. Go watch it!
A few friends who escaped from North Korea recently asked me why some Americans don’t vote. “If you CAN vote, why won’t you vote?” I had no answer for them. I told them I have no idea.
The desire to have your preference voiced in the form of a vote is a right that most people in this world do not have. Americans are privileged with the right to vote. Go vote!
Lord David Alton and MP Fiona Bruce invited me to speak at the UK Parliament. More than anything, it was so encouraging for people of their stature to be so genuinely invested and interesting in helping people in and from North Korea. A very accomplished young man from North Korea who is studying in the UK was in the audience, along with many others who are actively involved in the issue of sending information into North Korea.
If you’re ever in London, check out the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea’s event schedule. They are probably one of the most active APPG groups in the UK parliament. You can check out their schedule on this link and follow them on Facebook.
On a fun note, my friends (Danny and Sam) and I photo-bombed Prime Minister Teresa May. 🙂
Ava DuVernay’s new documentary, “13th” is a powerful, compelling narrative of how mass-incarceration in the United States is an extension of slavery. Drawing from interviews with professors, politicians, activists, and former-inmates-turned-activists, along with media and news footage from the past ninety years, DuVernay presents a reality embedded in the United States that must be reckoned with and fundamentally addressed.
I urge you to watch it. I assure you, there will be parts that will infuriate you, shock you into disbelief, and bring you to tears of sadness and sheer anger. I’m a strong believer that emotions triggered by injustice could and should be transformed into constructive actions to address the injustices. If you don’t have legal access to it online, find someone near you who does, or someone who can host a screening. If you still can’t figure out a way to watch it, message me. We’ll work it out!
At least check out the trailer. Then go from there.
[Updating post on June 6, 2020: Netflix has made the full film available for free on Youtube since April, 2020. See below]
The Oxford International Relations Society hosted a talk with Mrs. Park Jihyun, who presented a powerful and haunting overview of her experiences of living in and escaping from North Korea. The room was so packed that some students were turned away.
Amidst curious Oxford students, Mrs. Park shared her story with that quiet, still power she so naturally exudes. Her gravitas in undeniable. She is a fervent human rights advocate, fighting especially hard to raise awareness about the vulnerabilities of North Korean women and children. The evening was a somber yet hopeful one, as Mrs. Park shared with a few students of her activism work. Despite her harrowing experiences, she and her family found their way to the United Kingdom where she and her husband are raising their beautiful children. Her fight to survive, her resilience, and her huge heart for others are simply astonishing and inspiring.
You can read about the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea here. You can read more about her story Telegraph Article, Interview with Amnesty, and Reddit. A few photos of the evening. Be sure to follow her on Facebook!
The night before her speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum, Roya Mahboob and I chatted about her organization in Afghanistan. Digital Citizen Fund teaches IT to girls across the country to empower them and their communities through IT, internet, and information. A shy little girl who used to be too afraid to speak in front of her classroom learned about all that the world had to offer through this thing called the Internet. Fast forward a few years later: Roya has created an organization that puts her on the list of the world’s most influential people. To date, Digital Citizen Fund has:
- 13 IT centers
- Enrolled and graduated 7,900 girls
- Provided 55,000 people with internet access (5% of Afghanis have access to the internet)
Check out their site to learn more about their programs, snapshots of some of the young women who are students of this organization, and how you can get involved. Click here to donate and support this incredible initiative to empower women and their communities through internet, information, and technology.
Read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s profile of Roya here for TIME’s 100 Most Influential People here.
Read VICE’s article: Afghanistan’s Tech Revolution is Coming and Roya Mahboob is at the Helm
Watch her powerful speech here about her work below:
As a breakout session, our panel was not live streamed so I’ll share a few photos from our session here. Isaac Stone Fish from Foreign Policy and role model Gayle Karen-Young moderated and facilitated the panel and Q&A with Ji Seong-Ho, Hyeon-Seo Lee, and myself.
We shared thoughts about information access in North Korea (an increasingly popular topic, yes!), and the possibilities and challenges that surround the future democratization in North Korea. At the last minute, Oslo Freedom Forum had to get a larger room and double the time for our session because of the sheer demand! The panelists and I were so encouraged to see the diverse audience that packed into the room to listen to and participate in the very last session of the Forum. If you haven’t seen Ji Seong-Ho’s speech from last year’s Oslo Freedom Forum, you must watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kk0p0zcvlnU
Also, Lee Hyeon-Seo shared teasers about the NGO she is starting up soon. Keep your eyes and ears out for it! If you have any specific questions about what was discussed, feel free to message me.
As the Syrian Civil War wages in its fifth year, we continue to see images and read news articles of how increasingly bloody and more complex this conflict is becoming. With ISIS having gained a stronghold in Raqqa and elsewhere in Syria, the situation seems ever more intractable and hopeless.
Meet Abdalaziz Alhamza. He’s a young Syrian journalist from Raqqa who couldn’t stay silent while watching people from his hometown be ravaged by Syrian dictator Assad, only to be further controlled and slaughtered by ISIS who continue to use Raqqa as the ISIS “capital” today. He and a few courageous friends started a group “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” to smuggle images and news stories of Raqqa out of the city and for the world to see. In addition to informing the world of the atrocities that are taking place in his hometown, his group works to counter ISIS’ propagandistic narrative that ISIS territories are beautiful, thriving places for people to live.
Humble, powerful, and relentless. Listen to Abdelaziz’ speech here: https://oslofreedomforum.com/speakers/abdalaziz-alhamza
On the last night of the Freedom Forum, a bunch of us hung out and were amazed at how bright Oslo was, despite it being 4:30AM. We, of course, had to take a selfie.
His colleague Hussam Eesa was there as well. When I asked Hussam how non-Syrians can help their organization, he said “We don’t need your money. Just your prayers.”
At the Oslo Freedom Forum, I listened to incredible speakers, activists, and practitioners who are defending human rights in various parts of the world in their own way — small and large. Over the next few posts, I will share a few highlights from this incredible meeting of a diverse, relentless, and courageous collection of people.
During my trip to Seoul this summer, I met extraordinary people who escaped North Korea and are involved in service projects throughout South Korea. I was particularly inspired by North Korean defectors who are now college students in Seoul who want to “achieve unification of the two Koreas on a small scale by working with South Korean native peers through service projects.”
Esther Eom left North Korea several years ago and has been engaged in service projects over the past several years in Seoul. She is currently directing an NGO called “UNI SEED,” which engages university students who are South Korean natives and North Korean defectors to serve homeless people in Seoul. She believes that individual students can achieve what politicians currently cannot: unification (on a small scale) between North and South Koreans.
Additionally, she and her fellow NGO members want to signal to South Koreans and others that people who escaped North Korea are not solely dependent on South Korean NGO and government handouts. This young generation of North Korean defectors want to prove to themselves and others that not only can they survive, but also serve those in their new country.
Every third Saturday, UNI SEED cooks North Korean food, packages them into individual meals (rice, North Korean side dishes, and North Korean soup), and hands them out to homeless men and women in Seoul Station, a high-traffic area. They hand out the meals, and then go around the station to collect any and all trash that resulted from these meals. I was invited to their recent meal event and was inspired by how passionate, determined, and creative this group is.
There are other similar groups at churches and university campus across South Korea who want to achieve unification on a small scale by inviting South Korean native and North Korean defector students to work together on service projects and build trusting friendships through social events.
Keep an eye out for UNI SEED, Esther Eom, her colleagues, and for similar organizations. The power of a single individual truly cannot be underestimated!
A group of artists in New York City are creating a participatory project, inviting you to send a message of peace to North Korea. Check out their fundraising video and links to learn more about it.
This project made me appreciate that anyone can use her talent and strengths to get involved in an issue, whether it be through politics, the arts, sports, etc.
Take a look and get involved!
Hyeonseo Lee graciously offered to do a Q&A with Parlio, an online forum for intelligent conversations on issues that matter. Please read her Q&A with Parlio on this link. She carefully answered every question that was asked on our platform and I guarantee that you’ll learn a lot from her Q&A!
She defected from North Korea and has become a very vocal North Korean human rights activist over the years. You gotta pick up a copy of her recently published book: The Girl with Seven Names. Her Ted Talk captured global interest in her story and the larger issues she spoke of, which you could watch below:
After I interviewed a few folks at the Unification Media Group for a book that I’m working on, they asked me to do an interview about my background as part of a weekly program they broadcast into North Korea, targeting young North Koreans who secretly listen to their radio program. The specific program hosts young guests from all over — United States, South Korean, North Korean defectors — to talk about their personal goals and dreams. The goal of this program is to inspire hope, dreams, and strength among North Korean youth. My interview ran long (because I’m long-winded), so it was split into two parts. The radio programs have already been broadcast into North Korea.
At the beginning of every program, the radio program host reads the opening lines in Korean (excuse my rough English translation):
“If you raise a chicken egg, a chick will hatch. If you raise a duck egg, a duckling will hatch. American President Lincoln had a dream to free slaves, and eventually emancipated slaves in his country. Similarly, the dreams that human beings raise will become reality. For the North Korean young people who are listening to this program, what kind of dreams do you hold dear in your heart? Now is the time for us to deliver the stories of young people who have passionately followed their dreams and made them into reality.”
If you have ideas of programs or content that you’d like to have broadcast into North Korea, or if you want to write a letter or speak to North Koreans through these radio programs that secretly broadcast into North Korea, contact me any time!
The Seoul-based “Unification Media Group” is the umbrella group for Radio Free Chosun, Open Radio for North Korea, Daily NK, and OTV.
Ji Seong-Ho walked 6,000 miles with just one leg and one arm on the crutches that his father made for him to defect North Korea for the second time to reach freedom in South Korea.
He was caught during his first attempt to escape North Korea, and was beaten severely by North Korean soldiers. When I met with him a few weeks ago in Seoul, he told me that the worst part of being punished by the soldiers was their fury they expressed at a “disabled freak” for bringing dishonor to their country. People like him were supposed to die in silence, not make a mockery of North Korea, they said.
He now runs an incredible organization titled “Now, Action, & Unity for Human Rights.” His organization is raising funds for him to move into a new office to continue the work his organization does: rescue North Korean children, raise global awareness about human rights violations in North Korea, and broadcast radio programs into North Korea for North Korean people to illicitly listen to. I watched him walk up the stairs to his tiny office on the fifth floor (no elevators) and thought, “my goodness. Humans are truly capable to overcoming any obstacle.”
I just made my contribution to his campaign on this site. Please check out the site and make your contribution today!
Watch his speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum — it’s a tale of the unmatched resilience, hope, and persistence to survive that only human beings are capable of.
Normally, I try to avoid re-posting articles on the blog (even though there are so many good ones out there!) but this one was too good, too interesting, and too unique to not re-post.
Mr. Yeong-Jin Jang arrived in South Korea in 1997 after escaping North Korea and only recently came out to tell his story in an autobiographical novel, “A Mark of Red Honor.” Also, read this interview he gave with Mr. Choe Sang-Hun at New York Times, where he speaks of feeling like a “double alien” in South Korea.
What a story of courage!