Last updated: February 26. 2014 11:30AM - 1667 Views
By Tilly Dillehay, Editor tcryar@civitasmedia.com

A map of the railway connecting the two countries, located at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The tracks have been there since before the war, but they don't run anymore.
A map of the railway connecting the two countries, located at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The tracks have been there since before the war, but they don't run anymore.
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Macon County High School graduate and current Westmoreland school teacher Hayley West is passionate about North Korea. She is so passionate about it that she wants to tell you exactly what is going on over there.

Two years ago, the Times published a feature on West, who was about to leave on her year long trip to South Korea. Her involvement with that area of the world has only grown since then.

But we couldn’t say it as well as she can. Read the following letter, from West, to get the full picture:

“When I decided to move to Seoul, South Korea to teach in October of 2011, I had no idea how much of an impact it would have on my life. More than 2 years later, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about, read about, reminisce about the country that I have grown to love and think of as my second home. However, it’s not just the South Korean people who have left an impression on my heart. During my 18-month stay, I became fascinated by North Korea, the “hermit nation,” and more specifically, the people who live there.

“My fascination began when I visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea in December of 2011, the day after the official mourning period ended for North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il who had passed away that month. The DMZ is the most heavily fortified and patrolled border in the world. It is 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, and it divides the Korean peninsula roughly in half. The DMZ was created by the Armistice signed by both sides in 1953 as a cease fire, not a peace treaty. Technically the two nations are still at war 60 years later.

“On my tour, I learned that North Korea is completely reclusive and totally shut off from the rest of the world. The citizens don’t have access to the Internet, outside radio or television, or any sort of media that is not controlled by their own government. I left the tour with my interest sparked.

“I began reading anything I could find about North Korea and finding ways to become involved. I found out that people want to escape from the oppressive nation. There are about 30,000 North Korean defectors hiding in China right now and trying to get to South Korea. If they are caught, China forcibly repatriates them and they are either sent to concentration camps or publicly executed. For this reason, there is a 3,000 mile “Underground Railroad” to sneak them to safety. After working with a couple of organizations to tutor defectors and send supplies across the border using industrial helium balloons, I read a book that would change my life.

Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only man ever BORN in a prison camp to escape. Shin’s story touched me because we are the same age, yet our life experiences are so completely different. He began witnessing brutal beatings and public executions at a young age. He was also the victim of torture and imprisonment before attending the public executions of his mother and brother as a teenager.

“In 2005, Shin and a co-worker decided to escape from the camp. While crossing the fence, his partner was electrocuted, and Shin had to crawl across his body to safety. After his escape, he wandered for months and ended up in China where a reporter stumbled across him and decided to tell his story. After receiving asylum in South Korea, Shin moved to California and began working with Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a human rights organization that exists to bring awareness to the situation and to empower North Korean people. The book was the first time I ever heard of LiNK.

Every spring, LiNK prepares a group of “nomad” volunteers to travel across the country bringing awareness to the masses and providing fundraising opportunities. It costs roughly $2,500 to fund the rescue of a North Korean refugee. Since 2008, LiNK has funded more than 200 rescues, and for the last 2 years they have raised more than 1 million dollars per year for the cause. There has been a holocaust going on in North Korea for more than 50 years, and no one seems to know about it. LiNK is educating people on a massive scale.

“Cumberland University has generously agreed to host one of the informational events. On Monday, March 3rd, representatives will be at the Heydel Fine Arts Center at 6 pm. They will present for about an hour and will answer any questions you may have. The event is free and open to the public. On February 17, 2014, the U.N. released its long anticipated report about the atrocities and human rights violations going on in North Korea. Come learn about it for yourself. “

The Macon County Times joins with West to urge your presence and support at this event.

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