Teaching North Korean Refugees English

Organizer & Beneficiary: Rachel Chanthavisay

Teaching North Korean Refugees English

For the last decade I have spent countless hours listening to the stories and thoughts and hearts of my Korean friends...both at home in the U.S. and during my travels in South Korea. I have learned to love their culture, their food, and their language. But most importantly, I have come to love the people themselves. In all of that time, my desire to help the people of North Korea has grown exponentially. 

 My most recent trip to Seoul gave me my first opportunity to communicate with a North Korean refugee. Her husband died of starvation at home, her son died of starvation during his military service, and she eventually sold herself to a man in China so that she could escape. Her story is not unique, nor was it the worst I had heard, but this was the first time I had been able to ask questions of someone who has survived one of the worst dictatorships currently in existence. 

Two things stood out to me while she spoke. The first was that, of all the culture shock and struggle, the single most stunning thing to her was the discovery that Americans were NOT the demons she had been led to believe they were. 

But more importantly was when she discussed her struggle with the language upon finally reaching the safety of South Korea.

The North and South Korean languages have become very different things linguistically. South Korean now utilizes as many English words as our own language utilizes words from elsewhere ("liberty", "art", "music", "mammoth", and "vanilla" are just some examples of stolen words).

For a North Korean refugee to survive in the workplace, get an education, or sometimes even communicate with their peers...English is necessary. Even more significantly, if a refugee wants to bring attention to the plight of their families and homeland, English is a wildly important tool. Some of the most influential refugees have learned English specifically to address the U.N. and the International community in a plea for help.

I have been given the opportunity to volunteer for three months with TNKR (Teach North Korean Refugees) and teach English to a growing waiting list of North Koreans hoping to be heard. The main video on this page features Park Yeon-mi, a young girl who learned English through this group. It is a non-profit company, and I will be expected to provide for my own needs for the duration of my time there. If you feel at all led to help me in this, I would be eternally grateful. My financial needs are $6,000 all told, but I am only fundraising for the housing. 

If you are unable to help financially, I only ask that you turn your prayers to the people of North Korea. Pray for their freedom, their hearts, and that they can one day be reunified with their families across the border. If you have the time, please watch Kim Pil-ju's story below, as it is one of the most impactful I have ever experienced.