Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Save my Friend: Help North Korean Refugees Pt. 2

I'm starring out into a crowd of North Korean defectors, South Koreans, and foreigners. Video cameras are pointed at me and camera flashes make it difficult to focus. I'm trembling and I'm not sure it's because it's 27F and extremely windy or if it's because I am about to give a speech in front of a large crowd of supporters of the Save my Friend Campaign. "Am I really going to do this? Can I do this?" I think to myself. I search the crowd for reassurance. I'm drawn to a lady whose eyes are filled with tears above her sign that reads "Save my Friend," which covers the rest of her face. My throat tightens, but at the same time the emotion in her gaze strengthens me. I remember I'm not standing alone, but with my friend Debbie who will speak after me. Finally, I say "annyeong hasseo (hello)" and the crowd returns the greeting.

Debbie and I nervous like crazy
"I'm really nervous to be speaking here, but I recognize the importance of speaking out," I share. It's my fourth time attending the Save my Friend gathering at the Chinese Embassy, where supporterss urge China to put an end to defining North Korean refugees as illigal immigrants and therefore repatriating them back to a country where they will face either execution or forced labor camps. I realize that it's time to do more than just attend. I want North Koreans to know that, while I recognize that myself and other foreigners may never truly understand their pain and suffering, that we want to try and to stand with them in their plight. Because, in reality, these injustices are of world-wide concern. We are all human and must be there for one another.

As I continue on with my speech, the reality of the situation becomes even clearer to me. I'm using note cards, but I find them less important than I had expected. What I want to say it so deeply ingrained that it comes naturally. A Korean man with impeccable English we met right before taking our positions translates for me and I feel confident the message is being relayed with clarity. While I scan the crowd throughout the entire speech, the only eye contact I make is with the lady holding the sign that originally gave me my important burst of confidence. Everyone else is a blur a midst the candle lights, signs, banners, and flashes. I finish, bow, and hand the mike to Debbie. She has had very little time to prepare, but still manages to speak with a calm and confident voice and relays that although many people are fearful of taking a political stance, they don't have to. This is a humanitarian issue as well and a humanitarian stance is all that is necessary.

Afterward, I want to join the lady that had caught my eye during the speech, but I let my nerves get the best of me and rejoin my group. Part of speaking up was just getting over myself. Realizing that there is more at stake than my nerves and fears that accompany them. But it took a lot of courage to leap that hurdle and, in this moment, I'm not quite ready for the next. As for the future, my goal is to find a way to intermingle the foreigner and Korean supporters of the cause. As it is, we are relatively separate in the crowd and I see us being so much more powerful joined as one.

The rest of the event is inspirational. During the past three events, a friend that I met at the first gathering translated the message of the speakers, but she is not here today. Still, I feel the passion in the voices and it's enough for me to know that I am a part of something great, something special, and something I genuinely feel is making a difference.

For anyone interested in participating in the Save my Friend campaign, people are still gathering everyday at both 2:00PM and 7:00PM in front of the Chinese Embassy. To get there via subway, use the Gyeongbukgung Station, exit 2 and walk straight for 5-10 minutes. You'll run directly into the gathering. It's rumored, but not confirmed, that the original 31 refugees have been returned to North Korea. However, the issue of repatriation still stands and the campaign is still going strong.

Finally, if you have not already done so, please sign the petition here:

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