My name is Juhee Um and I’m a member of YSP Korea. First of all, I’m very honored to be here. Korea’s unification agenda is not something Korea can solve alone, but it is in need of world level support and attention. That’s why it is very inspiring that we are having this meeting where people from all over the world gather to talk about Korean unification.
First of all, I want to share a brief history about Korea’s division. Korea was under Japanese rule as a colony from 1910 to 1945 and was freed after the Second World War. However, Korea didn’t achieve complete freedom since the victorious countries involved in the Second World War decided to divide Korea and take control. The Soviet Union, which was a country based on Socialism and Communism, oversaw the Northern part of Korea, and the United States, based on capitalism and democracy, oversaw the Southern part of Korea. Even after those two parties decided to withdraw their armies and control towers from Korea, this Ideological difference stayed, preventing peaceful unification.
Historically, all over the world there have been lots of ideological conflicts ranging from religion versus science in the Middle Ages to communism versus democracy in recent decades. Especially the ideological struggle between communism and democracy has resulted in numerous deaths, and it still lasts until now in the form of the division between North and South Korea.
No matter how hard we advocate for world peace and move forward, if there is one country that is divided due to ideological and political conflict, we will never be able to achieve a peaceful world where everyone can feel safe and valued. Therefore, as a young person, who still believes that we can be part of establishing a peaceful world, I believe in the power of ‘small acts’ as one proverb says, “Little drops of water make the mighty ocean”.
To show the power of ‘small acts’, I’ll tell you one story. In January 2021, one family came to a restaurant where Flavia was working. Flavia was the manager of the restaurant and she found that something was very strange with that family. The parents and one of their children were having a meal, but the other child wasn’t eating anything. Flavia recognized that this boy was conspicuously skinny and had a bruise on his face. She approached this boy secretly and handed him a small note, on which she had written “Do you need help?”. This boy nodded his head and the parents were arrested soon after Flavia called the police.
Imagine if Flavia hadn’t done anything about it. She had noticed something was not okay, but decided to ignore it and just continue working. The police said if that boy had kept on being abused as before, he could have died. So, her giving the boy a note was actually a huge thing that saved his life.
This story tells us the importance of paying attention to what’s happening around us and acting on it. You can start even from the smallest thing. Personally, I studied philosophy and pedagogy at university, so I tried to find the opportunity to volunteer to teach kids who are North Korean defectors, or children of North Korean defectors living in South Korea. And I donate every month until now to support them.
There are some interesting activities regarding Korean reunification going on in YSP Korea. There is a project called ‘UniUs’ which means “We are the ones who are intelligently preparing for unification”. With the purpose of spreading positive thoughts on unification, students gather and organize activities by themselves.
There was someone who knew how to do video editing, so our first activity was making videos about reunification and uploading them to our YouTube channel. The videos ranged from discussing news articles covering North and South Korea’s division problems to comparing North and South Korea’s snacks and cosmetic products. In our team, there was also someone who wanted to become a web-comic illustrator, so our second project was posting short comics about reunification on Instagram.
Recently, the UniUs team participated in a competition that was held by the ‘Ministry of Unification’ and won the first prize award which was given by the Prime minister. Young people are full of potential and talent. I believe that using our own abilities to build a peaceful world is more than worthwhile. And even from far away, you’ll be able to find something you can take part in, even if that’s just donating a small amount to NGOs.
North and South Korea’s reunification is a politically complicated problem, but with our own talent and ideas, we can definitely initiate something creative and fun that can make a difference. Let me finish this talk by sharing an inspiring message. Peace starts with me. Thank you.