I recently returned to Harvard as a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government and have been attending powerfully inspirational events that I'd like to share with all of you. I'll continue to write about the events that I attend here.
Today, I went to an event sponsored by the school's Belfer Center titled "Non-traditional Actors in International Affairs," where Tim Shriver–the founder/CEO of the Special Olympics, and the nephew of President John F. Kennedy–spoke at great length about how powerful each individual is in making a significant difference in the lives of those around us. Retired American diplomat and now Harvard professor Nicholas Burns (a very popular and well-loved professor at the Kennedy School!) moderated the conversation, and I wish all of you were there to listen and participate.
People with intellectual disabilities are continually treated in inhumane, and frankly, disgusting, ways in countless countries around the world today. Special Olympics, now having served over 4 million athletes, is one of many excellent organizations that is working to empower people, shift social attitudes and behaviors, and work to improve the lives of others.
I just received information about this conference from my school newsletter. Please encourage college freshmen and sophomores interested in public policy to apply for this conference! It’s a fantastic 3-day opportunity for undergraduates to learn more about careers in public policy and lessons in public service and leadership. I cut and paste some information below. For more information, check out this link.
2013 Public Policy Leadership Conference: February 21-23, 2013
What is the Public Policy and Leadership Conference?
The Public Policy and Leadership Conference (PPLC) is designed to inform students about careers in the public sector. The conference will encourage students who possess a commitment to public service to prepare for graduate study in public policy and international affairs, as well as to provide information on financial support through various fellowship programs.
Why Attend PPLC?
Harvard Kennedy School will be offering its thirteenth annual spring conference for first and second year undergraduate college students who are interested in pursuing professional careers in public service. These include careers in federal, state or local government, and work in the nonprofit sector or in international agencies. Our goal is also to provide information on various fellowship opportunities. To find out more about individual fellowships, please visit our resources page.
Who Attends PPLC? The conference aims to attract students from groups under-represented in public policy and international affairs in an effort to increase the diversity of students receiving these professional degrees. The conference will help prepare future leaders for study in public policy, particularly those from historically under-served communities and people of color. Participants receive paid travel, accommodations, and meals. Please note that the conference is open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents in their first or second year of undergraduate studies only.
Conference participants will be selected based on good academic standing, as well as demonstrated commitment to public service. Commitment to public service will be measured through student leadership and activism, participation in the civic aspects of school or community, and volunteer commitments in high school and college. Please include this information on your resume.
Over the past few months, I watched several incredible films that showcase social issues through captivating means, several of which I've listed below. Forgive me for the overly brief summaries that I wrote for each film. Please watch these films when you can.
This film, based on a true incident, takes place in Anatolia and is about a young teenage girl who was raped and sentenced to death. This film will pique your interest about modern day "honor killings," a horrific phenomenon that continues today that must stop.
Stoning of women is unfortunately a tragedy that continues to take place today. This film is based on a true story of a young woman in Iran who was stoned to death by men in her village for a crime she did not commit. The French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam captured this story and published La Femme Lapidée in 1990, which became an international bestseller.
Under the Taliban's tight reign over Afghanistan, where women are unable to work and must be accompanied by a male in public at all times, a little girl feigns to be a boy in "Osama" in order to escort her mother and grandmother around the village to buy food and survive. This film sheds light on the violent oppression of women, and forced child marriages — among many other take-aways–that makes a compelling case for you to watch this film.
Without question, a film or book could never do justice to atrocities that take place against human life. This rings true with the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994, where over 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days. Do not forget the countless lives that were lost in massacres between the Hutus and Tutsis in the decades leading up to this genocide that was famously overlooked in the days that it was taking place. This HBO film weaves real footage of the killings through the film. I strongly recommend you to watch it.
As Google’s North Korea Lead, I’ve been working on several projects related to connecting North Korean defectors with various online resources. One recent project was to manage the North Korean panel and workshop (or “lab”) at the Google Ideas INFO Summit that took place in Westlake Village, CA from July 16-18 2012. I invited 10 North Koreans currently living in Seoul to the conference, and their panel and workshop were the highlights of the conference! More on this later. One of the ten North Korean defectors whom I invited was especially captivating. “Paul,” who is just two months younger than I am, had a completely different upbringing than I did, having been born and raised in North Korea before he recently defected. At this conference, we snuck away to a quiet room where he opened up to me and told me his extraordinary story of his will to survive and seek freedom.
At the Google Ideas INFO Summit, Paul had the opportunity to share his story with many of the 250 participants and attendees, including Jane Rosenthal (the co-founder of Tribeca Film Festival), Ronald Noble (the Secretary General of Interpol), Jared Cohen (the Director of Google Ideas), and Eric Schmidt (the Chairman of Google). Each of his new friends were entranced by his personal history, which he told with very little emotion.
Paul led a fairly ordinary life in North Korea, often doing various errands for his mother by illegally sneaking in and out of China in order to make a few dollars to buy food for the two of them. (The average North Korean makes $3-5 USD, and must participate in criminalized market activity to survive.) When he was 15 years old, he saw his mother being arrested for doing business with people outside the country and, according to Section 233 of the North Korean law, she was sentenced to Women’s Prison No. 11 in the South Pyongyang province. Two years later, he learned that she passed away in the camp. He told me that this was the saddest day of his life, for his mother unfairly died at the hands of the North Korean government for merely trying to survive. She did not try to defect, or sell any national secrets. She invested the money she made in China into the North Korean markets, yet she was tried as a national criminal.
In his early teens, Paul developed a brother-like relationship with a North Korean border guard who was trained to shoot-to-kill defectors. For the equivalent of $100 USD, Paul would bribe the guard to sneak North Koreans across the Tumen River and into China. Paul would pay the $100/head fee–and sometimes a pack of cigarettes– to the guard upon his return to North Korea.
After walking the glittering streets of China and illegally watching South Korean dramas that were smuggled into his province in North Korea, Paul decided to defect and hide in China until he could figure out a way to make his way into South Korea. He was unfortunately caught, and was forcibly repatriated back to North Korea, where he was severely tortured daily for eight months, and then was sentenced to a political prison camp for three years.
When he entered the camp for the first time, he was terrified at the sight of emaciated prisoners with hollowed eyes and no human dignity. They performed meaningless and arduous labor tasks from sunrise to sundown, and suffered from not only physical torture, but also excruciating mental pain. People whispered to him that they did not know what crimes they were being sentenced for, yet they did not have the strength to complain. One day, he was sent to the prison ‘hospital,’ where people laid on wooden boards shoulder to shoulder. He saw people cultivate diseases in their own bodies so that they could expedite their deaths, since committing suicide was considered a crime that would punish their loved ones living outside the camps. At the young age of 17, he developed the sense to predict when somebody would die, based on their breathing patterns. Paul recalls thinking, “that man has about two more days left before he leaves this earth.” After a bedmate would pass, Paul would not report his/her death because he would be able to eat the corpse’s food ration. He would continue to sleep next to corpses and eat their foods until nurses noticed the rotting bodies, after which patients would be tasked with carrying the stiff corpses out into a mass open grave. He left the hospital, and went back his barracks, even more determined to survive and defect from this country.
Shortly after he was released from his camp, he defected once more, and after hiding in China for several months, he successfully made his way into Seoul, where he resides today. What shocked me most about his story was not the specific details of a peer who was born and raised under horrific circumstances, but was Paul’s belief that his life was a merely ordinary and normal one. Paul and I communicate about 3-4 times a week via email, Google+, and Kakao talk, and he tells me of the new surprises that he continues to experiences while living in a free society. He realizes that his life in North Korea is one that no person–much less a sovereign government–should ever witness and tolerate. Paul tell me that “[his] body and mind are just starting to understand the novel ideas of human rights and freedoms that [he] is eligible to own, merely by being human.”
Let’s hope that more people around the world are able to learn this lesson that Paul is starting to understand, and that we all continue to educate ourselves with stories such as Paul’s. Only through education and compassion could we help prevent a repeat of such travesties against human life.
If you have any questions about this article or would like to know more about Paul, please do not hesitate to contact me.
The ASAN Institute of Policies Studies invited the Divided Families Film Project team to present our documentary at their 2012 ASAN North Korea Week conference. So, Eugene Chung, the co-executive director, and I went to Seoul to screen our latest version to a Korean audience about the familiar and heartbreaking story of separated Korean families. We were among highly accomplished, widely experienced, and renowned professors, former North Korean elite members, and musicians. The experience was truly awe-inspiring. Check out a few photos from our presentation and Q & A afterwards.
We were invited to do a live TV interview for Arirang. Though short, check it out here!