An emoji is worth a thousand words. Well, some are. Recently released Kimjunjis– Kim Jung-un inspired emojis do little to speak for the millions under oppresive North Korean rule. Luckily, Vassar students have the opportunity to look beyond their iPhones for information on the subject.
Under the reign of Kim Jong-un, nearly 24 million North Koreans are subjected to harsh dictatorial rule. Americans are often made aware of the havoc North Korea wreaks in global politics but they seldom hear about toll the regime takes on individual lives. Especially on a campus as outspoken as Vassar, it’s hard to imagine life with so few freedoms.
LiNK, or Liberty in North Korea, seeks to liberate North Korean refugees by raising funds and public awareness. On Friday Feb. 19 at 6 p.m., LiNK will be holding its annual benefit concert and service auction to spread awareness about the plight of North Korean refugees and ask for donations from the audience. All proceeds are allocated towards the refugees and the event will take place on the second floor of the Students’ Building.
Esther Kim ’19 has organized the event. While Kim is only a freshman, the executive board of LiNK is utilizing a new technique by having members of the general body take control of several events that they are holding. Kim was eager to take on more responsibility within the club. She said, “After being a member of LiNK for the fall semester, I hoped to direct and contribute to it more than just someone listening in a general meeting.” The executive board includes president Ellis Kim ’16, vice president Kevin Lee ’17 and secretary Kelly Yu ’17.
LiNK is a national organization that utilizes chapters on college campuses to fundraise. As of July 2015, there are 347 chapters that have raised a total of $396,045. This money goes directly towards efforts to resettle refugees. LiNK has rescued over 400 refugees to date. The organization utilizes a “Modern Underground Railroad” to shuttle refugees to China and then South Asia. From there, LiNK helps them secure refugee status in South Korea, or occasionally the United States. Each rescue and resettlement costs approximately $3,000.
According to Vice President of LiNK headquarters Justin Wheeler, most relocated refugees have little knowledge of the outside world when they are first rescued. The situation is so extreme that most refugees require an intensive orientation process to acclimate to life outside of North Korean. Wheeler explained to Forbes, “In general, most North Koreans learn about the Internet for the first time when either they cross into China or when they go through our orientation process immediately following the rescue mission…It goes without saying that there is no free media inside the country.” LiNK’s other goal is to educate more people at Vassar about their cause. Kim commented, “Most Vassar students are heavily into social justice, but many are not informed enough or even know about this cause to get involved. LiNK hopes by having this benefit concert, we can get people to come and hear great music while also getting information about this important cause. We are trying to spread the awareness around, which will result in more members and a greater capacity for more funding.” LiNK’s headquarters shares the goal of education. They have produced several award-winning documentaries on North Korean human rights abuses and helps fund research on the country.
It’s hard to get an accurate glimpse into daily North Korean life but LiNK’s website describes this dire situation well: “The people of North Korea are denied even the most basic rights of free speech, free movement, and information freedom, because the ruling elite prioritizes regime survival over all else. They use a brutally repressive system of political control to ensure their domination over society, employing extreme measures including collective punishment, public executions, and political prison camps.” All of this horror yet it does not garner the television play or student dialogue like other world issues. Enter LiNK, who hopes to educate the campus through a series of relatable events.
The concert involves numerous performances by Vassar students LiNK hopes people will be eager to see. This includes a mix of musicians, singers and comedians, such as Calvin Lamothe ’17, Cheikh Athj ’16, Committed performing an improv sketch, and Measure4Measure. This year will also have the addition of a silent auction, which president Ellis Kim believes will be an intrinsic aspect of raising money. She said, “I’ve been helping with this event since I was a freshman, and now as the president of LiNK, I am excited to see if we can make the concert even more successful with the silent auction.” Ellis Kim has a lot of hope for the concert. She explained, “We are hoping this will attract a lot of students, and then have an intermission and play a video to inform people about the club and the issues it is trying to solve. Come for the music, stay for the message!”
The auction will offer services from LiNK members, such as rides to the train station, a photoshoot and late night food deliveries.
Over 400 refugees are safe thanks to the actions of LiNK, and through more fundraisers and greater involvement of the Vassar community, LiNK hopes to continue to raise that number. If you hope to get more involved or just want to check out the concert, head to the Students’ Building on Feb. 19 at 6 p.m.