Deptford Twp. – When you ask the students of Rowan College at Gloucester County's (RCGC) Japanese Anime Guild (JAG) for their most impressive collegiate accomplishment, they have a very non-traditional answer – their accomplishment is enabling the rescue of a North Korean woman and her young son from one of the world's most oppressive political regimes.
JAG is an on-campus club started to provide a fun and friendly atmosphere for students to socialize, learn more about Japanese culture and enjoy the latest in Japanese entertainment. While many RCGC clubs place an emphasis on community service, JAG is particularly charity-focused. They have supported a number of international, national and local charitable organizations from their inception, with the intention of helping others not only within their own community, but around the world. So when Associate Professor of Biology and Club Advisor Dr. Susan Glenn first heard about Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), she knew the organization was something that the students of JAG could really get excited about.
"I had read the book
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea which inspired me to start looking for ways to get involved," said Dr. Glenn. "LiNK was running a program to inform people about the hardships in North Korea, in addition to operating an "underground railroad" of sorts to help people escape the regime. We invited LiNK to our campus to speak about their work. The students of JAG came away from that presentation determined to do something to help."
LiNK is a grassroots initiative started by Yale University students dedicated to shifting attention away from the embroiled politics of North Korea and on to the struggle of its citizens. The organization employs individuals who are responsible for fact-finding missions, developing underground shelters, coordinating the resettlement of refugees and outreach efforts. They maintain a network of escape routes through China and Southeast Asia to smuggle refugees to safety and freedom in South Korea, but their commitment to North Korean refugees doesn't end there. LiNK not only sets refugees up with housing, food and clothing, but also works to integrate refugees into their new community by assisting with higher education applications, job placement, understanding the medical and banking systems and providing financial assistance and translations services. Since the non-profit started executing rescues in 2010, they have brought 618 people to safety, with 100 percent of funds raised going to support those rescues.
"Liberty in North Korea believes that the North Korean people will achieve their liberty in our lifetime," explains Sarah Palmer, Rescue Teams Manager with LiNK. "The bulk of our efforts are dedicated to rescuing refugees. We work with partners in China to help them make the 3,000 mile rescue journey to freedom and get them started in their new life."
LiNK depends on the funds raised by student, religious and community groups all over the world. When JAG discovered that it took a total of $3,000 to fund a full rescue mission, they were convinced that was a goal they could meet. The club is best-known for Kotoricon – an annual anime convention used to raise money for a variety of charities. Through Kotoricon and other fundraisers, JAG was able to raise the funds necessary for LiNK to rescue "Yoo Sun" (a pseudonym used to protect her anonymity) and her 10 year old son and see them resettled into a life of freedom and safety in South Korea.
"When I know the money goes to something worthwhile, it makes me want to put more work into it," said RCGC student and KotoriCon volunteer Kaitlyn Smith. KotoriCon co-chair and RCGC alumnus Edward Knorr agrees. "We send money to charities that I personally believe in, like LiNK, freeing people from North Korea and sending them to somewhere that isn't a terrible place."
"When we finally received the letter notifying us that "Yoo Sun's" rescue and resettlement was a success, it was such a big day," remarked Dr. Glenn. "I was so proud of the students. To know that they had impacted her life and the life of her son so deeply was the best possible reward for all of their hard work."
To learn more about the Japanese Anime Guild and RCGC's many other student clubs, visit
RCGC.edu/StudentLife. To find out more about KotoriCon, visit
RCGC.edu/Kotoricon or view a brief video on the February 2017 episode of
RCGC Today at
Rowan College at Gloucester County is located at 1400 Tanyard Road in Deptford, just off Exit 56 of Route 55.