education

Winning minds in North Koreas

FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2012 file photo, Park Sang Hak, a refugee from the North Korea who now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, hurls anti-North Korea leaflets as police block his planned rally on a road in Paju near demilitarized zone, South Korea. In South Korea, political activists send thousands of leaflets, DVDs and flash drives every year across the border into North Korea, mostly by balloon, hoping to bring to the isolated country. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2012 file photo, Park Sang Hak, a refugee from the North Korea who now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, hurls anti-North Korea leaflets as police block his planned rally on a road in Paju near demilitarized zone, South Korea. In South Korea, political activists send thousands of leaflets, DVDs and flash drives every year across the border into North Korea, mostly by balloon, hoping to bring to the isolated country. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

Often called the “Hermit Kingdom,” North Korea is infamously restrictive on outside information breaching the physical and electronic barriers of its borders. Whereas state-funded propaganda is widespread, other information can be difficult to access.

However, through activist efforts to send leaflets containing news, satire, or even soap operas, air-dropped balloons have been drifting across the border into the hands of North Koreans.

"The quickest way to bring down the regime is to change people's minds," said Park Sang Hak, a refugee from the North who now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, sending tens of thousands of plastic fliers across the border every year. 

Park and the other self-proclaimed warriors in the “information war” have noted that this spread of information can have small but meaningful impacts.

Lee, another activist-balloonist who prints card-sized leaflets with his contact information and how he was once “one of them,” aims to open even just a few eyes to the mythology North Koreans often hear from the ruling family.  

"Maybe one person rebels after reading the leaflets,” he said. "Maybe one person defects. I want them to decide for themselves what to do."

Scholars, however, agree with North Korean refugees who say that the information filtering through has “helped bring a wealth of changes, from new slang to changing fashions to increasing demand for consumer goods in the expanding market economy.”

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Raising North Korean Orphans - Planning for the Future

"Byung Wook" was at home when his mother was dragged away by the police. He said he heard the police raid the home but was too afraid to come out of his room. When he came out the next morning, his mother was gone and his father was sitting on the floor in shock. This is how Byung Wook became a North Korean orphan. Byung Wook came to one of our group homes in 2009 and has struggled academically more than any other child in our network. His performance in school was so bad that his teachers refused to give him any tests to prevent him from bringing down the class average. They put little effort to bring Byung Wook up to speed in his studies and he spends most of his time in class sleeping.

Such is the challenge of raising an academically challenged child in China, where opportunities are harder to come by and it is harder to catch up if a child is behind.

Last year Crossing Borders received sobering results from the surveys we administered. One of the biggest things we learned was that our North Korean orphans are ill prepared for the future. Just 20 percent of our children have a realistic career plan with short, mid and long-term steps on how they will reach these goals.

This is something we can help with.

As our North Korean orphans grow into maturity, it is vital that we equip them with the tools they need to be self-sufficient. The average age of our children is now 12.5-years-old.

Thinking about career paths poses a challenge for our field staff, most of whom have been raised in a rural environment. It is difficult for them to see the importance of getting the right training to suit the type of career each child wants.

China is rapidly changing. Over the past 30 years the economy has shifted from a mostly agrarian economy to one that is highly industrialized. This means that the old way of obtaining and finding employment has been upended. Our workers need to be able to adjust so that our children can find meaningful employment and even be a benefit to the community at large.

It is also difficult for them to think about such things as they deal with the daily needs of the children. This is why we feel that it is vital for us to educate our caretakers and give them practical tools to help each child become productive members of society.

By the end of this year, we want to work with each child age 14 and older to have a clear and attainable career path. We will also work with their caretakers to make sure these plans are practical in the context in which each of these children live.

This is why we believe that it is necessary to deal with the challenges North Korean orphans face from an organizational standpoint. While our caretakers provide a stable, loving and nurturing environment for each child, Crossing Borders can come alongside these caretakers to provide additional help.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It is a unique “village” that Crossing Borders has created. We connect donors from around the world with experts both in the U.S. and around the world to provide the love and care that each of these children need.

You can be a part of this community of help by sponsoring a child. Through our Child Sponsorship Program, you can donate $40 or $80 per month to provide for the needs of children in our network. Find out more here.