Calvin’s Liberty in North Korea raising awareness, fundraising


Courtesy Calvin College LiNK

Students at Calvin LiNK Kimbap event last year.

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is a non-profit organization whose teams aid North Koreans in escaping oppression. Calvin’s student organization chapter of LiNK raises both money and awareness for the North Korean people.
Calvin’s chapter was started in 2011 as a student organization. In 2016 LiNK was put into the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), so they weren’t their own student organization. Because of this, they had a decreased budget. They were able to regain their student organization status last fall and are now an independent club.
Calvin LiNK is well known for its Boba tea sale and Kimbap making event, but “not everything’s money making,” according to Vice President Solomon Kim.
“Our main purpose is trying to form Calvin community, and through that we can create awareness all around campus and spread the word,” Kim said.
North Korea represents one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today,” according to LiNK’s website, “but the scale of the international response has been severely lacking. We’re working to change the way the world sees North Korea, so the people get the international support they deserve.”
They do this by trying to share the stories of individuals and common people in North Korea, as all the mainstream media attention seems to be going towards the political issues and not the oppression issues. LiNK’s slogan is “People not Politics.”
LiNK has sponsored 939 refugees. It costs about $3,000 per refugee for rescue and sustained empowerment. On their website, LiNK shows exactly what each dollar is going towards, and public records of their taxes are easily accessible.
One of LiNK’s key goals is not just to get people out of North Korea but to stay with them through the process of relocating, finding a job, adjusting to a new culture, and evading capture. The journey is not over when they leave North Korea: it’s when it begins.
Kim knows from personal experience the struggles that North Koreans can face once they’ve escaped. Kim’s parents are missionaries in St. Petersburg, Russia. Their mission is to help North Koreans and other refugees find a safe place to go.
“Through connections that my parents have,” Kim said, “they will try to send North Koreans down to South Korea, get them a South Korean passport; get them an apartment; if they have a family, get them all together; if kids are there, get them into school; somehow find some sort of a connecting way to get them settled back in to a normal life.”
“North Korea creates an entirely fantastical and negative image of the outside world,” Shaylan Lammers, a member of Calvin LiNK’s leadership team said. “They are being lied to about their leader and the truth of their country and freedom, and how the world looks through the eyes of every other nation. In this sense they are being stripped of even the basic human freedom to their own ideas, which should involve the concern of every human being.”
Nina Thampy, who is working on public relations for Calvin’s LiNK this semester and will be serving as president in the spring, was convicted when she saw the LiNK bulletin board her sophomore year and read the two hand-written letters on it from refugees Calvin LiNK had sponsored. The refugees had already escaped out of North Korea and into China, but it was  dangerous to try to get into South Korea.
Thampy also follows Liberty in North Korea on Instagram and Facebook, which provides her with brief updates about North Korea issues and refugee stories; with this, Kim believes personal research is important. Most North Koreans have to eat corn and beans every day because they can’t even afford rice.
“70 percent of Americans surveyed had never heard of the North Korean famine,” according to an August 2014 survey from the Bush Center, and “59 percent of Americans had never heard of North Korea’s political prison camps, which have been compared to the concentration camps of the Holocaust and the gulags of the USSR.”
Calvin LiNK’s mission is moving more towards raising awareness. They screen a documentary and host information meetings about North Korea. They are also considering starting prayer meetings in the spring semester.
Calvin LiNK had a fundraiser this past Tuesday at the Le Kabob restaurant which donated a percentage of the purchases to Calvin LiNK. Their next event will be a penny drive; teams of students from different dorms will walk around asking for any spare change and raising awareness for LiNK.
LiNK’s most popular events at Calvin have been the Boba Tea Sale and the Kimbap-making event. In the past, LiNK has made all their own Boba Tea, a popular Korean drink, to sell as a fundraiser. For the Kimbap-making event, LiNK asks faculty and alumni to donate money or food supplies so that Calvin students can come together and make a traditional Korean food, similar to sushi, and have discussions about North Korea.
Kim knows that it can be hard to feel a personal connection to the issue “if you don’t hear about these people at all and they can’t tell you about it because they’re in hiding.” LiNK’s website has videos and every once in a while there will be testimonies of people who have escaped.
“It’s not just one or two people,” said Kim “it’s a lot of people who are trying to get out and that have come out and are trying to settle in, and it could take them 10, 15 years to find a job because of documents and language”
“This year we really wanted to focus on the quality of the community, not just the quantity.” Thampy said. “We want people to feel included and a part of something.” The club has a smaller team this year.
Thampy encourages students to get involved, and Kim reiterates that there is some way for every student to contribute, whether or not they have money. Anyone can help by purchasing items at sales, helping at events, attending an awareness event, coming to meetings and making the effort to learn more about the issue.

For information about meetings or any questions about Calvin LiNK, contact Nina Thampy via her email, [email protected]

Courtesy Calvin College LiNK
The logo for the organization.