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2019-10-27 Matching 97: Charlie in the TNKR Factory

TNKR quietly began in March 2013 when co-founders Casey Lartigue and Eunkoo Lee connected several North Korean refugees with volunteer tutors. There was no long-term plan. But as former New York Mayor Ed Koch used to ask: "How am I doing?"

Total number of sessions: 97
Refugee participants: 434
Volunteer tutors and mentors: 980

Yesterday's session had 9 refugees, 14 tutors, and 5 staff/volunteers.

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I arrived at the office at 7:30 a.m. We tell refugees not to arrive before 9 a.m., the Matching sessions start at 2 p.m. 

What time did the earliest of early birds arrive yesterday?
* 8:45 a.m.
* 8:55 a.m.
* 9:02 a.m.
* 9:03 a.m.

The student who arrived at 9:03 a.m. was quite surprised to learn she was fourth.

To avoid having refugees and tutors from sitting together, we tell the tutors to arrive between 1:30 to 1:50 p.m. Two arrived before 1:30. One day when we have a big building, then we can have separate waiting rooms.

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Refugee arrivals into South Korea.

This is our starting point with refugees in Track 2: When did you arrive in South Korea? "Look forward, not backward." We began to stress this in our early days when we realized that some tutors were asking refugees about North Korea and probing them for other information. We do ask the refugees to announce when they have arrived into South Korea, and make the point to tutors that we will work with them from now.

2012 (1)
2013 (1)
2015 (1)
2016 (1)
2017 (2)
2018 (1)
2019 (2)

Of the nine students, 4 are returnees to TNKR, 5 are newcomers. We try to bring in as many new students as possible each month, but we also have constant demand from refugees to return.

We call it "matching," but actually it is a "selection" session. Refugees get to choose, tutors agreed to be chosen.

Did the refugees have on their poker faces during the orientation process? During the orientation process, many of the students said they were fine just one or two tutors. However, yesterday some of them informed Eunkoo that would like to select more--such as maybe five. One student said he wanted everyone, then he proved it!

As TNKR Academic Coordinator Janice Kim said, "One student reminded me of Charlie from Charlie in the Chocolate factory when he entered a candy shop and had to choose just one from all the wonderful selections available to him. In this case he had the opportunity to choose as many as he wanted!"

At the end of the session, when other refugees had already had enough, one student was still selecting.

On average, refugees chose 2.9 tutors, tutors were selected by 2.1 students.

Here's how many tutors the refugees selected:

Six tutors (selected by 1 refugee)
Four tutors (by 1 refugee)
Three tutors (by three refugees)
Two tutors (by four refugees) 

Fundraising: Volunteers paid TNKR's rent!

When volunteers join TNKR, we ask them to engage in fundraising. Of course, some people are offended by the suggestions, look for excuses, or complain. As I wrote a few years ago, I have heard for quite a while (about two decades) about "time or a dime." One of our volunteers told me point-blank that he either gives his time or a dime. He and others warned me against asking volunteers to engage in fundraising.

Thankfully I ignored them all!

We wouldn't have an office or been able to build TNKR into something greater if I had listened to them. The group from yesterday raised more than 1 million won ($925), enough to pay our rent for one month and almost enough to even cover the utilities. If you have been thinking about making a donation, please consider making it to one of these fundraisers:

Fundraising by the nationality of the tutors:

Canada: 444,000 won ($380)
USA: 438,000 won ($370)
The Netherlands: 180,000 won ($150)
United Kingdom: 18,000 won ($15)

When we recently informed a Korean business couple, they agreed to match whatever is raised by this group, up to 10 million won.

We thanked the volunteers by giving them various gifts, including copies of books signed by North Korean refugee authors.

Statements from volunteers (more may be coming soon):

Suzann: "I haven’t been this excited since I first came to Korea to restart my teaching career. And I was almost as excited as when my fiancé proposed! I think this is going to be a very special experience. :)"


Ethics and Advocacy Workshop

After refugees and tutors briefly greeted each other, I then led a workshop about the importance of being professional and not treating TNKR like it is a social club. This workshop was developed by Frederick Byeon, a trained specialist in combating victim advocacy. He wasn't there, so I took the lead yesterday.

After I talked with the volunteers, we then finished with TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee leading a session giving a bit more detail about each student. We try to keep it from being a general information session about students, we keep it focused so the tutors can have a bit more information to help them get prepared.


A Growing Team

When TNKR first began, it was two people trying to help NK refugees, but without a specific plan or long-term goal. Along the way, we have had some volunteers join.

Our Academic Team that worked on this session:

Academic Coordinator: Janice Kim
Volunteer Advisor: Dan Cashmar
Outreach Coordinator: Sarah Swanner
Office Project Manager: Youngjoo Yoo
National Director: Eunkoo Lee
International Director: Casey Lartigue

Every member of the team is a donor and fundraiser to TNKR.


Goodbye to Oliver Brown

We had a goodbye dinner last night with Oliver Brown, a volunteer with TNKR since 2016. TNKR Academic Coordinator Janice Kim paid for the dinner last night, beaten TNKR co-founder Eunkoo Lee to the cash register.

He is an optimistic guy who was always ready to join a TNKR team to help when needed. During his three years with us, he has been a TNKR speech coach mentor, Track 1 tutor, academic team member, development manager. He traveled from a long distance to volunteer with us, always eager to help and bringing a smiling face to the office.

Not only did he volunteer his time, but he put money behind it, such as donating to every new fundraiser and even having a matching donation of 500,000 won when one of our volunteers set a goal of raising 500,000 won.

Because of volunteers and donors like Oliver, TNKR is able to the build an organization that gives refugees so many choices that they are, like TNKR Academic Coordinator Janice Kim says, like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory.

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Korean translation by Youngjoo Yoo:


NOTE: The Halloween decorations in the background were for a party TNKR held for NK refugee youngsters, they have nothing to do with this session.

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