Year after year, Fulbright Korea grantees choose to commit their time and energy to interact with, and hopefully improve the lives of, North Korean defectors, whether that be through tutoring English, attending conferences, or volunteering for other local organizations. This past June 12th, a group of 17 ETAs came to Seoul to do just that—only this time, with their running shoes.
This was the Kim Dae Jung Peace Marathon, an event sponsored by the Kim Dae Jung Peace Center. The race itself was divided up into 5k, 10k, and half marathon segments, and it began in Yeoeui-do Hangang Park and ran along the length of the Han river. Kim Dae-jung, whom the marathon was eponymously named after, was president of South Korea from 1998 to 2003 and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for “his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea…and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.” Along with inaugurating the accommodating “Sunshine Policy,” Kim arranged a summit meeting in 2000, the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration. One result of these diplomatic meetings was that family members in the North and South who had been separated during the Korean War were allowed to meet in Pyongyang and Seoul. This year’s Peace Marathon was held the weekend of the 16th year anniversary of this historic declaration.
For the ETAs who ran in the race, toeing the starting line marked the culmination of several months of fundraising for Running 4 Resettlement (R4R), an initiative that was started 2 years ago by former grantee Eric Horvath (ETA 2011-13), and currently headed by Cait Cronin (ETA 2013-15). Cronin, who also volunteers with NKD tutoring, felt a particular calling to R4R out of her desire to do more for this marginalized group beyond teaching in the classroom. “After volunteering with North Korean Defectors, visiting North Korea personally, tutoring scientists from the DPRK, and learning more about the difficulty of resettling during my internship at NKHR, it was impossible to not be driven to action. While rewarding to see students flourish here in South Korea,” she says, “it is also difficult to think about their cohorts facing unimaginable horrors like human trafficking while still waiting for their own chance. R4R is about coming together to recognize both these connections and inequalities and directly provide basic, essential help to fellow humans in concrete ways.”
The direct, concrete assistance Cronin refers to comes in the form of a “Rescue Fund.” Via R4R, the entirety of the funds raised prior to the race were donated to the Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Rights (NKHR), specifically to their Rescue Fund. Aside from raising awareness of the often-harrowing plights of North Korean refugees through social media campaigns and fundraising events, the Fund assists in the physical extraction of said refugees from China and surrounding countries. Considering the fact that many refugees, especially women, fall prey to labor and sex trafficking after they flee North Korea, the work that NKHR and similar organizations do is crucial.
According to NKHR, it costs about $2,500 to bring one refugee to safety in South Korea—all in all, R4R raised roughly $10,758, of which Cait Cronin personally raised a whopping $2,000. The total amount was raised by 224 unique donors, and it will be enough for the Rescue Fund to bring around 5 people to South Korea.
Events like R4R depend on the generosity and commitment of volunteers like Cronin, as well as like the NCHR staff and ETAs who fundraised and attended the race. When asked about what future ETAs and researchers can do regarding the North Korean refugee situation, she responded: “I would absolutely recommend becoming involved in the Fulbright NKD volunteer program if possible in your placement. It does require genuine dedication and commitment– teaching extra hours is never easy, especially one-on-one or to low-level learners. But the challenge is well worth the incredible opportunity to form real, meaningful connections and break down invisible barriers between people and cultures. For ETAs unable to participate in the NKD program, R4R is of course a great way to get involved; we always need help with recruitment and fundraising. Finally, I would suggest reaching out to the many great organizations already working with resettlers here in South Korea, including NKHR, LiNK, and the Daegu Hana Center.”