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Discovering Empathy: A Camp Organized by NKHR's L4 Team
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2015-04-08 21:01:00
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Discovering Empathy: A Camp Organized by NKHR's L4 Team

by Youngseok Lee
International Cooperation Team Leader

From September 27 (Saturday) through September 28 (Sunday), NKHR held an overnight camp entitled “A Camp to Discover Empathy” for about 40 college students interested in North Korean human rights.  The camp took place at the International Youth Center in Banghwa, Seoul, and was organized by NKHR’s team of college-student volunteers, L4.  Instead of merely focusing on learning about and understanding North Korean human rights and North Korean refugees, participants also learned to empathize with one another and observe how people’s feelings and thoughts are understood and conveyed.

From the beginning, the L4 team wanted to design an event that would convey such messages. Step by step, the team members agonized over many aspects of the camp, such as how to convey what they had felt and learned during the past six months of campaigning with NKHR, and what they could do to better move and touch people. Below are some highlights from the experience.

Let’s avoid conveying just rigid factual information!

In preparing for the camp, members of the L4 Team worked tirelessly in order to include all of the necessary information and the descriptions of their experiences working with NKHR.

The Living Site, The Activists’ Voices

The Camp began with a session entitled, “The Past, Present, and Future of the Fight for North Korean Human Rights.” Through this seminar, panelists explained the connotation and meaning North Korean human rights carries in both the international community and Korean society. The session also included time in which participants could contemplate their roles in the campaign for human rights.

The second session featured a panelist who actively assists North Korean defectors stranded in China. As he spoke of stories directly from the frontline untold in any book, we could see that all of the participants were listening with bated breath and utmost concentration. Once the session ended, one participant shed tears in front of the panelist and the two embraced each other.

Let’s Share and Show Concern Together

After dinner on the first day, the participants were given an opportunity to converse with North Korean escapees who are now attending university in South Korea.  It was not until everyone had finished eating that the defectors suddenly began to reveal their stories. Some of participants were extremely surprised that North Korean defectors had been there all along.  Because the person sitting next to them revealed him or herself as someone from North Korea only after they had already realized that they had shared thoughts and feelings, the participants were able to better empathize with their North Korean brothers and sisters.

The participants were divided into four groups, one of which was made up of only young North Korean escapees.  This group of North Koreans who have resettled in Seoul discussed the hardships they experienced after arriving in South Korea—difficulties they faced at school, agony within families, torment they had suffered from people around them.  Some of them shed tears as they relived painful memories, but they were also able to draw from these experiences and share how they overcame such challenges. This created a warm atmosphere towards the end of the discussion as the group decided to create additional support programs for other North Koreans who arrive in South Korea.

Express your thoughts

On the last day of camp, although exhausted, the participants’ and volunteers’ eyes were full of passion and earnestness. Through role-playing, each group acted out the hardships young North Korean defectors had undergone, and everyone voted on the best presentation.

Participants also proposed ideas for new volunteer activities. One group suggested a sales campaign centered around the expression “200=1.” The expression “200=1” represents the 2,000,000 won that is needed to save one North Korean refugee in China and bring her safely to South Korea.  Another proposed a program that would help young North Korean escapees find their sense of identity through the exploration of history.  Other proposals included a street campaign that would give people the opportunity to experience political prison camps firsthand and a program that would better facilitate communication within North Korean-escapee families. Participants were able to empathize with each other as they gave and received encouragement and compliments for their novel and creative ideas.

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