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Cultural event on its way to Cumberland

Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:58 PM

An informational human rights and cultural event centered on North Korea is coming to Cumberland University.

Hayley West, who lived and taught in Seoul, South Korea for 18 months, is involved with Liberty in North Korea, a human rights organization that exists to help and empower North Korean people.

On March 3 at 6 p.m. at the Heydel Fine Arts Center on the Cumberland University campus, an event will feature volunteer LiNK speakers who wish to inform the public about the history of North Korea, the current plight of its citizens and how people can help.

The presentation is free and open to the public and should last about an hour.

West said while she was living and working in South Korea, she become fascinated with the North Korean people and wanted to get involved.

She said her interest was sparked when she read “Escape From Camp 14” while abroad and even got to hear the subject of the book, Shin Dong-Hyuk, speak in Seoul.

According to West, Dong-Hyuk is the first person ever to be born in and escape from a North Korean prison camp. She said the book is also the first time she’d heard of the LiNK organization, which helped Dong-Hyuk escape while he was working with them.

West said she was involved with other organizations, helped tutor North Korean refugees and helped send supplies to them while she was in South Korea, but it wasn’t until she returned to the U.S. she became involved in LiNK, which she said is one the most well-known organizations that works with North Korean refugees.

“They do cultural awareness and education in the United States as well as fundraising,” West said. 

LiNK even does rescues of North Korean refugees and has officers who help to go in and get them out, among other things. She said it costs around $2,500 to fund a rescue, which includes travel and documentation.

Since 2008, West said LiNK has rescued more than 200 refugees, and the number continues to go up every year. She also said the LiNK organization raised more than $1 million in both 2011 and 2012 to help fund rescues.

By doing nationwide “nomad” tours, West said LiNK trains volunteers to travel across the country, making stops all over with informative sessions to bring awareness on the circumstances in North Korea.

“It’s been a holocaust going on there for 50 years,” West said.

West said circumstances like disagreeing with the government in North Korea could land you in a political prison camp where individuals are tortured and often executed.

One reason West said she was drawn to Dong-Hyuk’s journey is because they are the same age.

In the book, Dong-Hyuk witnessed his 5-year-old classmate beaten to death for taking corn kernels and was tortured for information for seven months after overhearing his mother and brother discussing the possibility of escape. West said Dong-Hyuk was released from his torture in time to see the public execution of his mother and brother.

“There are horrible things happening, and people don’t know about it,” West said.

West said she believes now is the perfect time to educate people.

Each spring, the U.S. and South Korea hold annual joint military drills, which usually begin at the end of February. West said North Korea sees these as threats and is usually in the news for other threats of its own this time of year.

“I know North Korea will be in the news in the coming weeks, so I felt it was a good time for an information session to take place,” West said.  “I think it will be very beneficial and helpful to the community.”

West also said Cumberland immediately reached out and responded with anything they could do to help, including allowing West to hold the event in March.

“The fine arts center holds 230 people, and my goal is to fill it,” West said. 

For more information on LiNK, visit libertyinnorthkorea.org.

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