Divided families: Q&A

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My name is Chahee and I am a retired librarian. I was the Branch Manager of the Albany Park Library of the Chicago Public Library before I retired. This picture was taken in October 2007. The gentleman on the far right in the back row in one of the pictures is Reverend Won-Chan Noh who was separated from his wife and two sons in North Korea. The third person from the left is Senator Mark Kirk who worked on the divided family issue for 16 years until the end of 2016, and the tall gentleman next to him is Utah Congressman James Matheson. These two men were the co-chairs of the Congressional Commission on the Divided Families for years. I was giving a speech on the Korean American divided families in front of national and international reporters and guests from the State Department and the US Congress.

Questions to Chahee from: creative_sparrow The Ruth Gorse Academy

The stories of the divided families are so sad and heartbreaking to read, so I wish you lots of luck in reuniting a lot more families in the future!

Q) Considering that North Korea operates on a very strict regime, what are the major obstacles you face when trying to locate a family member?

A) Our issue is a family matter, which means fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters were separated from each other, and they have lived without knowing what happened to each other for almost 70 years. This is a humanitarian issue. But because North Korea has used this issue not as a family matter but a political matter, the divided families have remained divided.

Q) How many reunions have you successfully made?

A) Not a single reunion has officially happened between the United States and North Korea. But some people have used unofficial channels in the United States or in Canada to find out about their family members in North Korea and exchanged letters or in some cases even met face to face, but they had to pay a lot of money to the unofficial people.

Q) I am very intrigued by the ‘Four abandoned children’ photograph posted on your website. Do you know their identities and are they safe? Do you know the story behind the photographer who took this?

A) No, I don’t know their identity, but it was a common thing which happened during the Korean War. In the case of Mr. Cho, whom I know very well, his mother sent him alone with other people going to the South because he was 13 years old, and he would be taken to the North Korean army if he stayed in North Korea. Months later, Mrs. Cho and her 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old daughter walked for weeks to the western sea, where boats were available. After they reached the sea and waited for days, a boat showed up. But the water was too deep, too rough, and too cold for the children to reach the boat by themselves. Mrs. Cho had to carry luggage containing clothes, dry food, and pots and pans and couldn’t help the children to reach the boat. So she told the children to stay right where they were and she could come and get them. While Mrs. Cho was placing the luggage on the boat, the North Korean soldiers suddenly showed up and started shooting, and the boat suddenly took off. Mrs. Cho tried to jump into the water, but the bullets were flying everywhere, and other people on board pushed her down until the boat was out to sea in a safer place. Years later, Mrs. Cho reunited with her son, and she did everything to find out what had happened to her children in North Korea but was unsuccessful. She lived a very sad life. On her death bed in Chicago, Mrs. Cho asked her son to find the girls and beg them to forgive their mother for abandoning them at sea without food and extra clothes in winter time. For years, Mr. Cho tried very hard to find out what happened to his sisters in North Korea. Then a few years ago, he found out that his sisters had grown up in an orphanage and they had all passed away.

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