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Fighting for North Korean Refugees, Sandra Park

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Chicago chapter.

Sandra Park is a third-year student at the University of Chicago fighting to raise awareness for North Korean refugees. As a Board Member of ENoK, or Emancipate North Koreans, she spearheaded the 31 for 31 Campaign last week, which asked students to fast for 31 hours and fundraise to help North Korean refugees regain their life and liberty. The campaign was an immense success and raised over $2,000. Below, Sandra gives us the details about the campaign and why she’s passionate about the North Korean refugee cause.

Tell us about yourself.
Originally from Fresno, California where I was born and raised, right now I am a third-year history major getting ready to start my B.A. research. Although my concentration is medieval Europe, my B.A. research will be on North Korean refugees in South Korea and the U.S. I have been active with the Badminton Club since O-Week, and since my second year I have been an active member of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This year, most of my time went to my leadership position as a small group leader for IV and to ENoK.

What is ENoK?
Emancipate North Koreans is a non-profit organization founded last year by recent graduate Andrew Hong. Our mission is to help North Korean refugees transition into the American society and to raise awareness on the human rights violation in North Korea and the plight of NK refugees scattered across Asia.

How did you get involved with 31 for 31? Why are you passionate about it?
The number 31 represents the 31 refugees who were repatriated by China in February and so we wanted to fast for 31 hours in honor of their memory. “31 for 31” began in Princeton and added the Info Fair, where we exhibited illustrations by North Korean refugees. I got the idea for an Info Fair because I realized that so many people are not aware of the humanitarian crisis in North Korea. I think one of the worst aspects of suffering is loneliness, the knowledge that no one else knows that you are suffering. My hope is that refugees who have escaped into China will know that people around the world (especially Chicago) are fighting for their liberty, that we are not ignoring their cries for help.

My honest answer to why I am passionate about this is God. I believe in the message of Christ to care for the hungry, the oppressed, and the sick. During my three years in the College, I often wondered how I was going to respond to this call as a student. I always had interest in North Korean human rights but I finally put it into action this year when China arrested 31 refugees. My calling became even more clear when I severely burned my leg in February. During my recovery, I saw the charred feet of a North Korean refugee child on the news. He was warming his frostbitten feet next to a fire when he fell asleep and the fire consumed both feet. The pain I felt from my own burn helped me to understand a fraction of the pain the boy felt. This experience really transformed my attitude toward this issue. It went from being a “noble cause” to a very personal desire to see their sufferings end. The refugees are no longer a statistic that I feel need to be reduced but friends, brothers, and sisters.

What was your impression of the campaign?
This campaign was our biggest event on campus so far and really demanded a lot of dedication and coordination from our members. Everyone really put their best effort—our yellow fliers were everywhere and we had statistics plastered over bathroom stalls. So many people volunteered to help out with various tasks. When it comes down to it, I think our biggest success is the 47 people who fasted. Our goal was to get 31 people fasting, but we got over 40. We also hoped to raise $2,000 and ended up raising $2,255.51. Everything really exceeded my own expectations!

Who participated in it?
Our 47 participants in the fasting came from diverse backgrounds and each are involved in various other RSOs. Even alumni outside of Chicago participated in the fasting.

Describe your personal experience with the fast.
This was my first time fasting and it was a lot easier than I expected. What really hit me was that my body was so used to having its meals at the right time. It made me realize that naturalness of eating 3x a day is a luxury for so many in North Korea.

How do you hope to further raise awareness about the North Korean refugees? What are your plans for next year?
I’m currently a Board Member for ENoK and my friend David and I will be in charge of the Event Planning Team for next year. My biggest idea right now is to invite refugees in America to our campus to give their testimonies. Two people I have in mind are Jinhye Jo and Shin Dong-hyuk. We are aware that people are pushed to empathy in different ways so we will be trying to reach out to our campus through creative ways. Next year will be my last so I will also be very busy writing my B.A. and thinking of post-grad plans. I recently decided to pursue a career in human rights.

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Jessica Ro

U Chicago

Jessica Ro is a third-year Public Policy student originally from Santa Monica, California, a city just west of Los Angeles. Jessica joined Her Campus because she loved the concept of reaching out specifically to college-aged females through writing.