Thursday, January 14, 2010

oh yeah, so what am i doing here anyway?

it seems that a few of the people reading this blog (okay, my mom) are not totally sure what it is that i actualy do here out adrift, tethered to hq in america by the flimsiest of threads.  one reason i had been kind of hesitant to go into it is because i had the choice of running a blog that talked about where i am but not what i do, or the inverse; what i do but not where i am.  ive finally worked it out that it is much more interesting to talk about the challenges ahead, the experiences that are so rich and so meaningful, without actually having to go into the specifics of a pinpointed geographical location.  so here goes:

ive been working for a human rights non-profit for the last 7-ish months.  i am now running a shelter that assists in the placement of north korean refugees in the united states, a part of a larger network that helps these heartbreakingly oppressed people to find a chance at a "normal" life.  a chance to do the things that so many of us take for granted, like accessing the internet, speaking our minds, and maybe the simplest thing (but most important) of all, just filling our bellies.  i had been aware of this issue for years, i was lucky enough to have a father that, although a business conservative, is a social liberal.  he taught me a lot about the different situations that people are facing around the world.  however, it was presented in a very matter-of-fact manner, and not really in a way that made it seem that anything could possibly be done by an outsider.  so as i grew up, entered college, then grad school, i got behind a lot of causes.  environmentalism, gay rights, things that were important to me and impacted my life daily.  but most of the time it was as a side dish to the eentrée of my life, like academics or travel.  but spending a year in a hospital bed changed all that.  now i dont want it to sound like this epic sob story, like, i have to re-learn to walk, and laying there in the hospital bed i read a book that opens my eyes to the way i can devote myself to something bigger, and i swear i will no longer live selfishly traveling around the world but will give myself to the cause!  okay, this is actually kinda how it happened, but i just didnt know it at the time.  anyway, i was lying in a hospital bed for months, and months, and picked up mike kims book escaping north korea after being charmed by him on the daily show.  the thing that really got to me, was how a pretty normal person can decide to go all crazy spy-like and start crossing borders and smuggling refugees.  i was just thinking a person must need mad awesome contacts, or tons of cash or something.  i knew that kind of lifestyle would work for me, and i feel devoted enough to this specific cause that i would be more than willing.  and my wide range of experiences has prepared me with a certain skill set that many people do not have.  but hey, there's no way a tiny white girl with not one contact in any north korean human rights group could just expect to walk in and be like, hey, where do i sign up to like, smuggle refugees and stuff? right?  turns out, i could.

so, im not sure if i am allowed to name the group i work for, although two seconds of internet research could give you the answer.  but after returning to america from two years in japan (and a year in the hospital), i looked around for a group that was involved with this issue.  it turned out to be harder than i thought, because there are so few people that even know these atrocities in north korea are even going on, and the groups that do work in this field are all religious.  i am a staunch athiest, and there was no way i could become involved in an organization that was saving people to save their souls, instead of for the wonderful and amazing and deserving human beings that they are.  luckily enough i finally found a fantastic organization headed by people barely out of their teens, determined to practically carry these people out on their fucking backs if need be.  sometimes the money isnt there, and things are still getting sorted, but its a group of individuals who are determined to give every ounce of themselves to not only bringing awareness about the cause, but doing something epic, helping to rebuild the lives that have been almost destroyed by the most oppressive regime that exists on earth today.  i knew i wanted in.

so i spent my fall touring around the country (the us), living out of a van, teaching, discussing, and hopefully inspiring.  getting people to admit that this problem can be solved if enough like minded people take action, and getting them to pledge some sort of action, to not forget it as soon as finals get to stressful or the job hunt becomes more important.  i met some phenomenal people on the road, people that were so rich in character, i felt fortunate just to spend a few hours with them.  and honestly, i loved it.  i loved getting up and talking to people about something i truly believe in, and discussing ways to bring change.  i loved studying the issue everyday, and being ready to give thoughtful, accurate, and succinct answers to any question thrown at me.  i considered it a great challenge, to not give people any reason to doubt the severity of this issue, but also not to doubt the fact that something could be done.  and it has, this organization, the work of these few young people, has already resulted in bringing 27 people out of nk/china and into safety.

so after this tour, i was back at the office wondering what would come next.  i had already mentioned half-jokingly to the staff that i was interested in becoming a protection officer, someone who works at one of the shelters and is responsible for every aspect of the refugees lives, from border to border.  but i knew it would never work.  im white, i dont speak korean, and im inexperienced.  well.  so im white, big deal, im not in nk or china, so it doesnt matter, there are while people everywhere in se asia.  and for experience, i have tons in many fields.  it might not be in this specifically, but i have done enough strange things in my life that it seems to fit perfectly.  the language was the killer though.  so i didnt really think about it.

two days after getting back from tour, i got called into the office about the protection officer position.  i figured it was the requisite, sorry, wont work, thanks for playing.  so wrong.  it was more like, pack your bags, you leave in 5 days.  so much for the first christmas at home in 4 years.  they decided that sending a korean speaker with me that could train me would work, and though not ideal, still better than any alternatives.  and mostly i think it was my drive.  okay, i know this sounds vain, but i can do anything.  i know i can.  i have no special skills, am not particularly talented at anything, but if given enough time, ive got the will to do whatever it takes.  so bring it!

now, things havent worked out as planned.  the girl that came out with me totally pussed out, like hardcore.  left me high and dry.  but already working on a contingency.  i rustled up an korean teacher (a korean ex-pat that normally teaches piano, but what of it).  and im taking the time while where we have a lull in refugees to learn everything i can.  korean, the local language, local cooking.  also writing an english curriculum for the lessons we give here.  and quite a few other projects that will hopefully help how this organization runs the field program in the future.  so im living it, loving it, and cant wait until these efforts start bearing fruit.

so i will start updating this blog with the trials of all of these efforts, what works and what doesnt, what drives me to the brink and what pulls me back.  and maybe the occasional flashback to my past (hawaii, japan, etc). so i hope you stick round for the ride, i know i will.

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