▲ Koh Eun-Kyoung introduces the Global Inner Peace library at its Jeju City premises. Photo by Darren Southcott
When Koh Eun-Kyoung first went to Sri Lanka in 2003 as a Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) volunteer, she was met with quizzical looks — people wondered why she was going. She admits that she wasn’t even sure herself, and then she had an epiphany.
She was lecturing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at the University of Kelaniya, a few kilo-meters outside of Colombo, utilizing her bachelor’s and newly-acquired master’s degrees in the subject. Koh hadn’t gone to the South Asian country, the teardrop falling from the Indian subcontinent, with a passion for international develop-ment, but then everything changed on Dec. 26, 2004.
“It was a bright Sunday morning and I was resting at home, waiting for my friend to visit for brunch. Sudden-ly he appeared, wet and injured, with a broken mobile. I was shocked! He said that he had just come from the coast, where a tsunami had hit the villages.”
Koh quickly joined her KOICA colleagues, alongside many others from around the world, and set up medical camps to treat the injured.
“I felt like I was in hell. Everything was gone or destroyed, and we were very scared of infectious disease. It was the first time I came to know the smell of a dead body,” said Koh. The death toll eventually reached over 35,000, with more than 500,000 displaced. Amid all the lost lives that day, you could say Koh found hers.
Although she didn’t yet realise it, still focused on helping save and rebuild lives, what had been merely a “curiosity” in international development was about to become a vocation.
Despite being deeply traumatized by her experiences — she had recurring night-mares for years to come — a passion for humanitarianism had been kindled and she embarked on a path that would eventually lead her to set up Global Inner Peace, Jeju’s first international NGO.
▲ Koh makes a speech for peace at Gwandeokjeong to mark Global Inner Peace's “Jeju, Walking on the Peace Trail” event. Photo by Darren Southcott
The non-profit organization, based in small rental accommodation in “old” Jeju City, seeks to transcend racial, national and religious boundaries to tackle pressing global issues through education and inner growth. Its work is conceptualized as the intersection of three interlocking sets, Global, Inner and Peace, as per the NGO’s title.
Such lofty goals do translate to practical actions, such as the Global Citizenship Academy for students, the International Cooperation Development Course for lifelong learners, and the classes on Jeju culture and the Korean language. On Sept. 20, to mark the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, Global Inner Peace held a “Jeju, Walking on the Peace Trail” event, for which members of Jeju’s community came together to learn local history with the theme of peace.
Her commitment to an international city is far removed from the branding drives of the provincial government, wanting to see deep-rooted changes in how people define themselves and the world around them. She is able to do this with the financial support of her husband, who funnels profits from his part-time data manage-ment job into the NGO, while occupying the same office.
“I returned to Jeju wanting to start an NGO to build bridges between Jeju and other parts of the world. I want to develop public-private partnerships alongside KOICA [the Korean government’s official overseas aid agency] as well as the Jeju government,” she said.
“If this is successful, Jeju citizens will have more opportunities to participate in international development and cooper-ation. It is my hope that Jeju citizens can directly reach beneficiaries and for there to be active exchanges between Jeju and other countries,” said Koh.
To kickstart the NGO’s work abroad, Koh recently visited Myanmar to establish partnerships with local villages in the Inlay Lake region for grassroots sustainable development and education projects. The area has some similarities with Jeju, experiencing heavy tourism development from China and abroad, and Koh wants to work alongside communities as they steer their own path to sustainable devel-opment. If these initial projects are successful, partnerships will then be pursued in Nigeria and Timor Leste.
Unfortunately, local officials do not always share Koh’s passion for her work, and she says it took a number of months for local officials to comprehend her mission, only accepting her registration as an NGO in June.
▲ The “Jeju, Walking on the Peace Trail” event through Jeju City on Saturday Sept. 20 organized by Global Inner Peace. Photo by Darren Southcott
“They just didn’t understand what I wanted to do,” she said. “But I kept telling them I want Jeju youths to learn about global citizenship and be inspired to do volunteer activities abroad. This kind of NGO is very strange for them, but I showed them a detailed plan, with expected results, and finally they agreed.”
Again returning to her life-changing experiences in Sri Lanka, Koh recounts how they inspired her to join UNESCO in Beijing as a UN volunteer manager, and she spent three years in the Chinese capital. This was followed by a number of positions for KOICA, UNICEF, and finally back to JNU where she took up post as a lecturer in geography while reading for her Ph.D. She clearly experienced firsthand the “inner” change that now she hopes her activities will foster in others.
“Inner growth is about changing our perspectives of ourselves and those different from us,” she says, adding that peace must be both global and deeply personal, reflecting the NGO’s motto of think globally, act locally.
Koh has a deep interest in global citizenship, and was pivotal in bringing Nigel Dower, a leading philosopher in the field, to JNU for a 2012 lecture on his book, “Introduction to Global Citizenship.” The educational initiatives she now organizes seek to foster global citizenship among Jeju citizens, not only to become globe-trotting volunteers, but to work for meaningful change in the local community. In this way, Koh wants to break down the barriers we construct within and between ourselves.
“Nowadays we have a multicultural society and increasing international marriages, but many people remain uncomfortable with foreigners; some people are narrow-minded, and this could be a problem in the future. So, for all my activities, I want people of different ethnicities and nationalities to mix together. In Jeju we don’t have many opportunities to meet people of other ethnicities, so I always try to have as mixed classes as possible,” she said.
That is the hope, but Koh laments that even mixing between mainlanders and Jeju Islanders is often difficult as community flux has exposed the boun-daries between insiders and outsiders, complicating relations between commu-nities and social groups. She hopes Global Inner Peace can thus be a platform for true interchange between all, planting seeds that will later blossom as Jeju matures as a diverse and multicultural community.
“I found my passion in Sri Lanka. Now I want to help others do the same,” she said.
For more visit "Global Inner Peace" on Facebook or email Koh Eun-Kyoung at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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