Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Testimonials from the Participants of the 2011 Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School

Dear friends,

After a couple of weeks have passed since my return to Italy, memories and impression have settled down and it is possible to give a clearer opinion on the Human Rights Folk School.

For me it has been a precious occasion to learn a lot about Korea, a country that seldom occupies the headlines in western European nespapers/TV's/Radio programs. It has been impressive and dramatic to learn of the massive blooshed which repeatedly happened in this country, even during the decades after the end of the Korean war.

The struggle for democracy has never been easy in any country. The material we got and saw and heard (texts, films, documentaries, presentations by various scholars), have reconfirmed this impression.

The work the May 18 Foundation is doing in order to broaden to other countries the knowledge of Korean history, in particular with regard to the struggle for democracy, is very useful and worthwhile, especially for those people who live in their own nations similar problems, in terms of dictatorial or repressive regimes, lack of civil freedoms, etc. People who attend the course develop an understanding that with hard work, determination, courage, positive changes are possible.

I have been particularly impressed by the quality of the particupants to the Folk School, especially the young ones. The May 18 Foundation has done an outstranding job of selecting people who are involved in positive work in their respective fields. The interaction with other participants has thus resulted in a fruitful, stimulating and creative experience, rare to be found elsewhere.

If a few minor critical notes have to be made, in order to improve future editions of this initiative, here they are. There was some difficulty in interacting with those lecturers characterized by a scarce mastering of the English language. Also some more time for discussion with lecturers would have in general been important. The final reports by the working groups could have been more focused on some subjects of importance, determined together by the participants and the Folk School management, rather than leaving total freedom of choice.

Apart from these critical considerations, it remains an undisputable fact that the Folk School has been a remarkable success and a great experience for all those who attended it. Sincere congratulations to the organizers and the numerous people that actively cooperated in making it possible.

Best regards to all.

Mirco Elena Isodarco (Intern. School on Disarmament and Research on Conflicts)

Being a refugee, it is always difficulty to travel abroad. And my trip to South Korea was no exception with Korean embassy refusing to issue me visa as they fear that I might seek another refugee status in Korea. However, at the end of three weeks folk school in South Korea, I am glad that I made the effort to attend it.

All the moments and experiences that we encounter in our life are extraordinary and memorable in their own ways. The Gwangju human rights folk school has been a life long experience for me professionally and personally.

As expected, the folk school acted as a very important platform for me to learn about the human rights issues, history and democratic process in South Korea and the institutionalization of democracy. It is an inspiration to see how the Korean people and government have cherished and institutionalized the democracy and human rights that many of their fellow country men and women have fought with tears and blood.

Since the folk school included participants from different nations and professions, this provides opportunity for me to know and learn about the human rights and democratic issues in different nations and from different perspectives.

I am glad that during the folk school I was able to share and discuss many issues facing my people and nation which most of the time remain unspoken and I am thankful for my co-participants for their interest and sympathy in our issues.

One special feature which made the folk school an interesting forum for learning is the learning by seeing, in the sense that all the lectures and field trip took place simultaneously. This not only made the learning more interesting for us but also provide the opportunity for us to interact and build network with the concerned organizations and staff.

Field trips to many important places like the North and South Korean border, Gwangju National cemetery and many other museums had been very educational and memorable.

Another feature of the folk school which I personally felt very special is the homestay program. Though it was just for a night, but for me it was my first home experience- to see how parents and children live as a family. This homestay program not only made me to experience way of living and family structure of Korean society but also feel the hospitality of the Korean people.

Being away from my family members, friends means the world to me and I am grateful the fold school that it brought many new friends in my life. The friendship and network that I formed with my co-participants and staff of the May Memorial Foundation will last forever.

I am grateful to the May Memorial Foundation for the wonderful opportunity and memorable experiences in South Korea and thank you all for making extra effort to get me there.

Tsomo (United Nation European Union & Human Rights)

The Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School: A Brilliant Idea for solidarity

I am feeling very lucky and happy that I got the opportunity to attend the 2011 Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School from August 8 to August 26, 2011. I want to congratulate The May 18 Memorial Foundation for arranging such a pleasant and constructive event with a successful blending of learning and entertainment. This visit was a great chance for me to enhance my knowledge and experience as well as to improve some personal skills. All these were my objectives and aims when I applied there and I think all of them have been fulfilled by the foundation by their great effort to complete another successful event this year.

Regarding knowledge, firstly, I can have the knowledge of Korean history- both political and social. I came to know about the democratic uprising of 1980, the massive bloodsheds for achieving democracy and their consequences. It is very interesting and encouraging that though after facing a lot of hurdles, South Korea could turn around and could prove itself as one of the developed and powerful countries. Secondly, through the lectures of the honorable lecturers and senior participants, I gained a vast knowledge on the different aspects of Human Rights, democracy and development issues. Thirdly, as the foundation chose different country’s participants, from them I can have an idea about their own respective countries- not only political situations but also the social norms, language and cultures. And also, I could relate their socio-political and human rights conditions with my own country which is very important to me. Also, I could represent my own country to others as well.

Regarding experience, it was an awesome feeling to visit a new country especially when it is a very beautiful and systematic country like South Korea. And I am really impressed by the Korean people’s generous and helpful attitude towards the foreigners. All the staffs and volunteers of the foundation are excellent and very amiable both as organizers and persons. For their assiduous effort, along with the classes we had also the chance to visit many places and institutes as our learning part. Among these places the most striking places to me were the May 18 National Cemetery and the Panmunjom. I really loved the Naganeupseong folk village and want to thank the foundation for having it in their schedule. The home stay programme is an innovative and interesting invention of the foundation. I am glad to have the opportunity of the home stay with an amazing native family. It’s a great experience as it could help me to see the Korean life style and family very closely. And by this, it’s become easier for us to build a cross cultural friendship or networking. And the solidarity night is another significant step to understand and enjoy each other’s culture.

Moreover, through this folk school initiative The May 18 Memorial Foundation has built a platform to create networks among persons, organizations and countries. I hope the foundation will continue this brilliant activity and wish its more and more success in future.

Sadia Shabnam (Democracy Watch)

It was my great pleasure to be a participant in the Folk School of The May 18 Memorial Foundation. The program provided the lectures which were well-structured and organized. They offer participants the opportunity to explore and develop an insightful knowledge and skills of human rights and democracy related through class discussions among experienced participants and scholars. Significantly, the history of the May 18th Democratic Uprising Movement and the history of the Korean Democracy Movement were presented to the participants.

Moreover, we had many field trips to different places, included Korea Democracy Foundation; Panmunjeom; Kim Dae Jung Memorial Library; People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy; Sung Kong Hoe University, the May 18 Memorial Cemetery and other May 18th Memorial sites; it offered us even a more practical knowledge, experience and/or historical movements of South Korea.

More interestingly, I studied in class consisting of students who come from diversified cultural, educational, religious and working backgrounds including India, Nepal, Taiwan, Philippine, Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan etc., The class with students from different nationalities means that we have enough chance to discuss and share our different opinions and perception, which greatly help us to have a broader understanding of the globe.

Last but not least, one thing that I recognized for my life in Korea is the friendly and helpful Korea people, especially the staff; volunteers of the program and my home stay family.

Chhay Bun (Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia)


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