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Comprehensive Consultation Call Center for North Korean Defectors 1577-6635
SUCCESS STORY
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The weight of being “the first” is overcome by hard work.
NKRF Date 2022-02-18 Hit 253


The weight of being “the first” is overcome by hard work. 


 

 


 

 

In her view, one can clearly see the strong support that North Korean refugees can trust and rely on.
After completing the first semester, as the school break started, the school instructed their students to complete the assignment of earning foreign currency before the end of the school break.
Having no way to complete the economic task given to her, after a long deliberation, she decided to go to her relatives in China.
After arriving in China, she asked his relatives for help but was turned away.
As she could not go back to North Korea empty-handed, he wandered around for a while, and in Yanji, in China, she was reported by local people there and ended up in jail several times with threats of being deported back to North Korea. 
She was in her mid-20s in 2001, at the time she defected from North Korea, and in 2003, she came to South Korea and began a life of settlement.

 

 

 

 

Starting over from where she left off
After leaving Hanawon (Settlement Support Center for North Korean Refugees), she attended a practical nursing school.
“In North Korea, my life was put on pause after nursing school. So I decided that I wanted my start in South Korea to be where I left off.”
Within one year, she obtained her license for practical nursing (LPN) and was immediately hired as a practical nurse at a big hospital in Anyang City in recognition of her being diligent and responsible in her work as a trainee.
In South Korea, most North Korean Refugees who work as practical nurses face a lot of difficulties because of their accents. 
This was the same for her.
Patients at the hospital would ask persistently where the staff were from after hearing the staff’s distinctive Hamgyeong-do dialects.
“The director who was witnessing these tricky encounters said, ‘If patients ask, you can tell them that you are from Gangwon-do’. After that, whenever I was asked, I would tell them either I’m from Gangwon-do or that I came from overseas. Some may think this kind of situation would be stressful, but I didn’t feel that way. I decided to not make it a big deal, so I didn’t feel bothered.
Due to her moving to different houses, she got to work at several different hospitals and she often experienced being rejected at interviews.
“At interviews, when the interviewers were told that I was from North Korea, they would look at me really surprised and others would tell me that hiring would be difficult because of where I came from. Each time, I would comfort myself thinking, ‘Not hiring me is their loss’. I never cried about it and tried again.

 

 

 

 

Social Welfare from another starting point
There came a change in her life at the hospital where she had worked for 4 years.
“In the early days of settlement, I was busy, so I didn’t have a chance to look around how other North Korean refugees lived. And then I found out through news that North Korean refugees were having a hard time settling in South Korea, so I wanted to help.”
The influence of her first mentor in South Korea was not in small measure how she came to start social welfare work.
“There was a teacher, whom I had known since Hanawon, who had suggested studying social welfare when I mentioned my interest in wanting to help North Korean refugees.”
She started her social welfare studies in 2008 and earned a doctorate in social welfare from Ewha Womans University in 2019.
However, studying was not the only thing that she focused on during those 10 years.
Since 2016, she has been involved in a North Korean Refugees’ human rights related survey at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) as an external researcher traveling both domestically and internationally.
While she was studying up on human rights violations that North Korean refugees experienced while living abroad, she published a dissertation on the lives of North Korean refugees living in England from their perspective and it drew public attention. 
Center Director Kim has accumulated various experiences in North Korean refugee welfare projects, and in January of last year, he was appointed as the secretary general of the Western Hana Center in Gyeonggi Province in order to support North Korean refugees in the field.
In addition, after her work was recognized, she became the first North Korean refugee to be appointed as the center director.
Hana Center is a regional adjustment center for North Korean refugees that was founded by the Ministry of Unification in 2009, and that provides early adjustment education, case management, employment opportunities, counseling, and more.
The Western Hana Center in Gyeonggi-do is the only center among 25 Hana centers nationwide with a North Korean refugee as its center director.
“Being the first means that it is on a road that hasn’t been taken. Honestly, I felt more of a sense of responsibility than a sense of duty. Of course, there are those who are supportive, but I am sure there are also some with an attitude of ‘let’s see how you do it’. It is a position that has to handle both trust and prejudice, so I wanted to start from the bottom.”

 

 

 

Lending a helping hand also takes courage.
The bottom that the center director Kim spoke of is the ‘field’.
From early in her job, she has been meeting with North Korean refugees personally to assess the reality of their situation and to come up with solutions.
Within the district that the Western Hana Center in Gyeonggi-do is serving, there are 1,650 North Korean refugees registered at the center and 900 refugees who are requesting their services.
“In the past, support was provided to the North Korean refugees in their early settlement period; however, currently there are fewer newly admitted North Korean refugees and with the effects of COVID-19 being prolonged, there has been increasing difficulty with the everyday lives of refugees. There is a lot of work, such as hardship caused by unemployment and medical expenses for the elderly, to be done.”
After becoming the director at the center, she started to run a program for North Korean refugees and their children at the center.
Currently, a language-communication education program for children born in third countries, inter-Korean family reunification meetings, and an overnight excavation of the remains of Armed Forces personnel participated in by both North and South Korean adolescents, have been running and a program for moral support with both North and South Korean participation is in development.
“The center is operated by a limited number of 8 staff, so without the help of related organizations such as the Korea Hana Foundation, local governments, national police, and medical facilities, the success of the center cannot be expected. We have been focusing on expanding the network that can deliver practical results for North Korean refugees in various ways, including employment and educational support.”
The kind of Hana Center that the director is thinking of is a simple yet special home.
It’s a home any North Korean refugees can come visit at any time. People may come with heavy hearts at first but on their return, it is a happy home that they are glad to have come to.
“I think anyone isolated in unfamiliar situations may not be able to remember even the things that they already know. When people come to our center in such a time, we would like to help by offering our wisdom. It is ok for them to forget about our center in their happier times. However, when things get difficult, I want them to remember that our Hana Center is always nearby and that they can always come to us.”
Lastly, Center Director Kim emphasized respecting client’s wishes in counseling.
When a client refuses consultation visits or disclosing their identity, then their wish needs to be respected as much as possible.
However, the principle of helping a North Korean refugee who may not know where to ask for help, as much as one can, remains strong.
Center Director Kim says, while smiling brightly, that to help North Korean refugees settle well into their new society, he is more than happy to be their humble servant.
In her view, one can clearly see the strong support that North Korean refugees can trust and rely on. ​