Tongil Mom translates as “Unification Mom”, and is a NGO based in South Korea that focuses on issues related to the mental health and well-being of North Korean defector mothers.
The women who make up the leadership of Tongil Mom are tireless in their push to highlight the ongoing human rights violations suffered by female North Koreans both in their homeland and as defectors in neighboring China, and are urging the international community to support the defectors even after they have left North Korea.
“We want to raise awareness about the North Korean defector women and what they experience. Once they resettle in South Korea, it doesn’t mean the nightmare ends for them,” said Son Myunghee, 35. “The forced repatriation policy [in China] obviously hurts the North Korean defectors, but it hurts their own citizens too. Chinese fathers are then forced to raise the children on their own.”
“I have met many defectors, and whether they have been settled in South Korea for one year or ten years, they all suffer from PTSD and require treatment. The type of PTSD and trauma they are suffering from prevents them from living properly in a life of freedom,” explained Oh Eun Kyung, the director of Tongil Mom, a counseling psychologist supervisor and professor at the Korea National University of Transportation. “Instead of seeking help; they turn to alcohol or suffer from deep depression and anxiety.”
Kyung is urging defector women not to be afraid to step forward and join Tongil Mom’s group sessions – attended by hundreds of women across South Korea.
“We want to provide a safe environment for these women to come and experience this type of counseling. What these defector women have suffered through is unspeakable, and the first step is to provide a place for them slowly to open up to people they can trust and start revealing what they went through,” she said. “The pain can’t be erased, but there are people willing to help. And that is the only way they can grow and live in freedom.”