Since 1948, harsh government restrictions have paralyzed the freedom of the people of North Korea, binding them in a country characterized by malnourishment, war, neglect, concentration camps, sex trafficking and general oppression. In the mid-‘90s, severe famine silently killed more than a million people, and the living conditions have only gotten worse since. Because of communication control, it’s difficult to get information in or out, leaving many either unaware of or misinformed about the true state of this dictatorship and its victims.
LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) began in 2004 as a student movement, led by two young men driven by the often undiscussed injustice in North Korea. Cookie and T-shirt sales led to grassroots support, and before long, a burgeoning idea turned into a respected non-governmental organization. Headquarters moved to D.C., then California, and an underground was established in North Korea and China to assist the refugees. The goal? To tell the stories of the people of North Korea and shed light on solutions to this crisis.
“It’s a really closed country. That’s been one of the biggest prohibiting factors. You see exactly what the regime wants you to see, which is nothing,” says Hannah Song, who has been the Executive Director of LiNK since 2008. She says the key to their success will come in getting the public to distinguish between the negative connotations of the North Korean regime and the innocent people it impacts, who are often willing to risk torture to escape their land.
The work of LiNK consists of awareness, advocacy and activity. Awareness is especially important for a cause that very few are accurately informed about. “If people don’t know what’s going on, then you can’t change what’s happening,” Song says. She’ll be speaking at the first annual !deation Conference this year, yet another platform to magnify LiNK’s message.
Internationally, there are 165 chapters spreading the word about LiNK. They often host speakers and documentary screenings, featuring the faces of North Korea. Committed supporters can become “Nomads,” touring North America to educate others on the subject. LiNK activists attempt to tackle the root of the problem, communicating with local and global leaders to change policies and legally liberate the North Korean people. But perhaps the most laboring work is with the actual refugees, sheltering and supporting them as they transition into a new life. LiNK maintains an underground presence in North Korea and China to assist these escapees. Many of these projects have to be kept confidential to preserve the identity of those involved from the controlling North Korean government.
LiNK is determined to raise enough money this year for every chapter to free at least one refugee, which costs $2,500 each. Fundraisers include the creative 9 Lives campaign, where supporters are encouraged to donate $9, each dollar representing a lifestyle that a North Korean citizen could end up in, whether it be sex trafficking, concentration camps or freedom.
Song believes organizations like theirs, which emphasize innovation in awareness, are inspiring and empowering youth to take action in global crises. “There’s a whole wave in this generation of younger individuals who are coming about and realizing: ‘Hey, I can actually make a difference. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have a Ph.D. and I’m not an expert, but I can make real tangible differences, in small and big ways.’”
You can find out more about LiNK’s work and how you can get involved at their website, LiNKGlobal.org.