North Korean children do not initially show up at Durihana International School happy to be there. They do not eagerly bring their back-packs full of paper, pens, and pencils excited to be in a new school. It is not a school that they have been working hard to gain a rare and elite admission to. Students who first arrive at Durihana International School arrive for one reason: they have to come here. Because of their circumstances, there are no other options available to them.
There are a host of reasons why they have to come here, but all begin the school because they have to. Some of them have tried to make it in the South Korean school system, but are so far behind that it is impossible to catch up. When your option is to forage for food so you don’t starve, or go to school and not eat, most children take the option to forage for food. As a result, many North Korean teenagers have an elementary school, or at most, mid-school level education.
Other’s grew up in China. They come to Durihana because they do not speak Korean and the South Korean School system is not equipped to deal with the language barrier. Durihana, however, has teachers who can speak Chinese and will take time to tutor the children and help them to learn Korean.
Many of the Chinese speaking children are also far behind in education. Their mother’s are North Korean, while their father’s are Chinese. Their father purchased their mother on the human trafficking black market. Children of these couples have been dubbed, “ghost children,” because they have no identity. Since their mother cannot show up to register them with the Chinese government (if she does she will be sent back to North Korea and imprisoned or executed), they do not have an identification card. Since they do not have an identification card, they are not eligible for healthcare or education in China. When they arrive at Durihana, they are far behind their South Korean peers.
Other students arrive at Durihana because their parents cannot (or sometimes will not) take care of them. The profound difficulty of being a North Korean in South Korean society makes it very difficult to adjust to life. Finding a boarding school that will take North Korean children and give them food, housing, and an education for free is a very helpful thing for the parent. For the student however, they are often very angry that they had to leave their mother.
So when the students arrive, they arrive with every one of their issues in tow. The show up often wearing their trauma on their sleeve, as well as their anger on their face. And the staff of Durihana faces this with continued grace, patience, and wisdom.
The new students do not face it with the same kind of grace or patience. They can be ornery, and very self-centered. Their entire lives have been an act of survival from one day to the next. They have had to put themselves before others in order to eat, to evade capture, to not get a beating, etc. Putting others first, and working together with others is not a skill set they arrive with. The staff of Durihana prayed, asking the Lord, “how do we teach these students to love each other? to work together? how do we teach them not to quarrel?”
Years ago, after spending time praying and asking God how to teach the children to work together and not quarrel, Pastor Chun had an idea. He would start a choir with the students. And so, the Durihana choir was born in an effort to teach the children to work together. The first purpose of the choir was not musical–it was spiritual. It was to teach them to walk in love together.
After they learned their first song, Pastor Chun recorded them to show them how they sounded. They sounded horrible. Every student was simply trying to sing louder than the other. This became the teaching moment that he capitalized on. He taught them that you cannot harmonize without working together. You cannot make melody with everyone trying to outdo the other. Beautiful music is impossible without everyone working together… and so it is in life. Wisdom’s ways are pleasantness, and all her paths are peace (Pr. 3:17).
The choir has changed the students, and the change in the students has changed the school. The students watch out for each other, take care of each other, serve each other, and reach out to those among them who are struggling. They pray together, learn together, and now–they sing wonderfully together!
They have come a long way since that first song. God has used a choir to stop a quarrel.