Unification awareness program kicks off

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Unification awareness program kicks off


At the launch event of the Youth Odyssey Unification School on Wednesday at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, participants, organizers and experts on the two Koreas pose for a commemorative photo. From the first row, right to left: Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo; Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of the JoongAng Ilbo and JTBC; Park Kwan-yong, former National Assembly speaker; Lee Hong-koo, former prime minister; Jeong Se-hyun, former unification minister; and Kim Young-hee, JoongAng Ilbo senior columnist. [OH JONG-TAEK]

The Youth Odyssey Unification School, a leadership program organized by the JoongAng Ilbo to expand awareness of unification issues among young people, kicked off on Wednesday at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul.

“I believe education is a starting point from which to approach the unification of the Korean Peninsula,” said Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of the JoongAng Ilbo and JTBC, in a welcoming address, stressing the awareness of unification among young people who will lead the future of the Korean Peninsula.

“It is necessary to have a balanced understanding in our approach to the reality of North Korea. As for the media, it is our mission to encourage young people not to give up hope for unification.”

Chairman Hong said the program is based on a “peace odyssey” campaign carried out last June, in which the JoongAng Ilbo organized a group of social leaders to visit 14,000 kilometers (8,699 miles) of border areas between China and North Korea, adding that some of its participants thought a program should be devised for young people.

At the opening ceremony of the unification school, former Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo, former National Assembly Speaker Park Kwan-yong and the former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, a principal for the unification school, encouraged students to learn about unification throughout the program.

“Unification is not a thing that somebody brings to us, but a task that only comes when we have pushed forward,” Jeong Se-hyun, the unification school principal, said in an opening ceremony, urging South Korean young people to prepare for unification since nobody knows when it will come.

Around 40 participants, graduate students studying North Korea or social activists in field related to unification in their 20s and 30s, shared their interest in joining the education program.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo, the first lecturer of the program, delivered a lesson to students for about an hour, saying the principle of trust-building on the Korean Peninsula in the President Park Geun-hye administration is still ongoing despite the North’s recent nuclear and missile tests.

“The unification of the Korean Peninsula will provide a new growth engine for Asia and contribute to overcoming of conflicts in East Asia.”

Ajou University Hospital’s Dr. Lee Guk-jong, a trauma specialist renowned for treating Seok Hye-gyun, the captain of the freighter Samho Jewelry, who was shot by Somali pirates during a rescue mission in 2011, will lecture on the medical situation in North Korea. Dong-A University professor Kang Dong-wan, who studied how South Korean cultural content is received in Pyongyang, will describe his research. After the weekly lectures, participants will visit the exhibit center of the National Intelligence Agency, the unification observatory in Mount Odu near the border and the demilitarized zone.

The JoongAng Ilbo is also planning a “peace odyssey” trip similar to the one it conducted last year, for participants in the current program to visit border areas and Mount Paektu in July.

“As I have little knowledge on North Korea, I wanted to expand my perspectives about the North,” said Kang Ah-reum, a student at Ajou University and one of the participants in the program. “I think this is a great opportunity for people to receive a systemic unification education.”

Another participant, Kim Kyeong-ryeol, a student at Dong-A University, said he expects to gain in-depth knowledge about the internal situation in North Korea from the experts.

BY KIM SO-HEE, KIM HYOUNG-GU [kim.sohee0905@joongang.co.kr]
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