Toronto program offers training for North Korean defectors
Published Tuesday, August 6, 2013 9:03AM EDT
Seong-Min Lee is training to be a future leader of North Korea.
After a dangerous and challenging escape from his home country, a Toronto-based human rights organization is building his leadership skills with the intention that he will one day return.
Lee’s journey to Toronto has been a long one. He left decades of famine and fear behind when he left North Korea in December 2009, heading through China to the South Korean embassy in Laos.
"We went through some very dangerous situations in China," he recalled, speaking to CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday.
Then, when he and his family crossed the border into Laos, he was arrested, but was later released. He reached South Korea in 2010, where he has been living within a community of other North Korean defectors before arriving in Canada for his five-and-a-half-month stay.
Lee arrived in Toronto this month as part of a pilot project with HanVoice, a Canadian organization established to support resettlement of North Korean refugees, while advocating improved human rights.
Knowing that the journey out of North Korea is often even more dangerous and complicated than Lee's, the group hopes to train successful refugees with the intention that they will one day return to the country they fled.
"We are trying to cultivate leadership within the North Korean refugee community in South Korea," said HanVoice co-founder Jack Kim.
"What we want to happen is that Seong-Min takes the skills he’s learned in Canada, such as advocacy," explained Kim, “To go back to his own community and perhaps in the future, when North Korea opens up, to become the future leader of North Korea."
After taking some language and advocacy training, Lee will travel to Ottawa, where will walk the halls of Parliament with MPs and cabinet ministers, learning about leadership as he goes.
When he returns to South Korea, HanVoice is hopeful he’ll spread his lessons in power management and human rights through the refugee community.
In talking about his home country, Lee still remembers the lyrics to a schoolyard song: "We are the happiest students in the world because we have the greatest leaders, like Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il."
When he eventually returns to his homeland, he hopes to bring a new tune of leadership with him.