Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Whitworth alum raises awareness about North Korea human rights crisis

Klausen now works with refugees in Southeast Asia for Liberty in North Korea nonprofit

Caleb Klausen, '10, didn't know as a child growing up in a remote part of South Korea that one day he would be working to improve the lives of those fleeing the totalitarian regime ruling the country next door.

Klausen who was born in South Korea and moved to Monroe, Wash., when he was in elementary school, became interested in the human rights situation in North Korea after he stumbled across a video online about a North Korean refugee named Shin. When he told his friend from Whitworth, Bobby Aldridge, '11, about his interest in that oppressed country, Aldridge told him about an organization called Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). LiNK, based in Torrance, Calif., focuses on raising awareness about the North Korea human rights crisis through mobilizing grassroots activists and meeting with governments, non-governmental organizations and other institutions to advocate for the North Korean people. It also works directly with refugees who have fled North Korea through a network of shelters in China and Southeast Asia.

"I looked through LiNK's website and was genuinely impressed with their work," Klausen says. "I saw this as a perfect opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and take advantage of the freedom I had in my schedule after graduation."

Klausen took an internship position last fall as a "nomad" with LinK. In that role, he traveled the country raising awareness about the ongoing North Korea human rights crisis and collecting donations for the organization's rescue missions. He spent the first month training at the organization's headquarters, and then spent a 10-week stint in the fall and an 11-week stint in the spring on tour, visiting high schools, colleges, churches, coffee shops, and other venues. At each venue he and other interns led an hour-long "screening," that included a documentary produced by LiNK, a Q&A session with the audience, and a presentation about how people could get involved with the organization.

"The situation in North Korea and China is a complicated one and our presentations really only touch the tip of the iceberg," Klausen says. "I believe in the work that LiNK does because they are concerned with educating the average person and getting that person personally invested in this issue."

LiNK nomads visited Whitworth twice this past year, but Klausen was visiting other venues during those tour stops. Junior Morgan McQuilkin and Amy Burkholder, '11, helped organize the LiNK events on campus.

Klausen recently was hired to a full-time position as a "Protection Officer" with LiNK and is now living in Southeast Asia. Protection Officers work directly with North Korean refugees in either China or Southeast Asia. They help protect, educate and ensure the safe passage of refugees to either South Korea or to the U.S. The position requires a minimum commitment of one year.

"The North Korean people have lived under an absolutely repressive government for nearly 60 years and they deserve a voice in the international community," Klausen says. "North Korean refugees are treated with disdain in China with no official status - this is why we are working to help resettle them into South Korea and the U.S."

Klausen, who majored in psychology, says his Whitworth education prepared him for the work he's doing now and the passion with which he does it by giving him opportunities such as studying abroad in South Korea for a semester, participating in the Prejudice Across America Jan Term program, and studying homelessness in Spokane through the Psychology of Poverty class.

Klausen is unsure of his long-term plans, but through his experience with LiNK and his newfound passion for human rights in North Korea, he has found that "working for a nonprofit, especially a nonprofit dealing with human rights, is not always easy and never well-paid, but it is rewarding in a way that no other ordinary job could be."

Klausen encourages fellow young Whitworth graduates to use the education and skills they have acquired at Whitworth to take risks and to continue to take challenges that will require them to stretch themselves personally and professionally.

"The world is in need of passionate people who are willing to make sacrifices and to understand that it's not all about being comfortable with the way the world is," he says.

To learn more about LiNK, visit http://www.linkglobal.org/.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Contacts:

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or eproffitt@whitworth.edu.