In October 2018, Kim Mi-Hyang was selected for IRI’s Future Democratic Leaders Program (FDL). The program supports emerging North Korea defector leaders to take a greater role in the North Korean human rights and democratization movement. Despite balancing the two full-time jobs of being a mother and working at a center to support victims of sexual abuse, Mi-Hyang was one of the most committed members of the program. Since the interview, she has attended every event and training for the FDL program – sometimes even bringing her baby with her.
In February, IRI held a small grants design competition – following the successful Ideathon model used in Panama – with its FDL fellows in Seoul, South Korea. The Ideathon is a shark-tank style competition where young activists design and pitch their ideas to a panel of judges with experience in the NGO community for the chance to win $5,000 to fund their idea. Mi-Hyang’s team, Peace Bridge, won the Ideathon with a program that seeks to raise awareness of the plight of children born to defectors in third countries and defectors who often have to abandon their children in order to come to South Korea. Their program will reconnect four mothers with their children and document the experience in a book to encourage other mothers to reach out to their children. Mi-Hyang shares her experience from the program and the Ideathon below.
“There are no great people in this world. Only great challenges which ordinary people rise to meet.”
By William Frederick Halsey
Early in the morning on a Saturday, I went to the Ideathon for IRI, leaving behind my one-year-old baby with my husband. Our team, Peace Bridge, planned to present our project “To Mothers” which we had been preparing beforehand during the Ideathon.
However, on the day of the workshop, we had to redesign the proposal in order to match the format provided by IRI. My team members and I hesitated for a minute because of the unexpected change, but we quickly started writing strategically by discussing and gathering ideas and opinions from one another.
At first, things didn’t seem to fit together and we struggled to connect some concepts. But we realized that the rewriting process enabled us to come up with things that we had not thought of before and to make our thoughts more concrete. Because IRI’s trainers, Marcelo Salas and Kim Nayoung, walked around to provide immediate feedback to each team while we were revising our proposals, we were able to use the time more effectively.
The best part of the workshop was that we experienced harmonizing as a single group, while at the same time, we could communicate with the trainers and experts immediately.
In fact, managing a team with multiple members while caring for an infant concurrently has been a challenge to me, but my team members’ regard and support has been the biggest help. I always try to do my best under the circumstances I face and learning civic activism with the Future Democratic Leaders Fellowship is no exception. Being a mother, there’s a lot that limits my engagement in civic movements, but I have always thought of what I can do to contribute. Using the perspective I bring as a mother, I have tried to project what mothers would love to express into our project.
I hope to be able to bring about a tiny impact on bridging mothers to their children by filling in those empty times while North Korean defector mothers and children are parted from each other. I thought my viewpoint as a mother would help our project, so I wanted to make the most of it.
Surprisingly, I was so focused on redesigning and presenting the “To Mothers” project during the Ideathon that I was not aware of how fast the time went and what the other teams were doing. After thorough preparation, we finally gave our presentation as if it was normal for us, but when they began announcing the rankings, my team members and I were so nervous. We could not stop thinking that maybe our team didn’t even get ranked; that our project was so bad. But finally, my team was called, and amazingly, we won the first prize. It was just unbelievable.
The Ideathon was truly a challenge to me. However, through my team’s efforts and the results we achieved, the challenge became a new hope: ‘I can do it.’
Thank you IRI and my team Peace Bridge for giving this great opportunity to me.