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Making a difference through music: Dal students craft songs, music video in support of North Korean refugees

- February 2, 2016

Student march in Halifax last November to bring attention to the plight of North Korean refugees. (Evan Groen photo)
Student march in Halifax last November to bring attention to the plight of North Korean refugees. (Evan Groen photo)

Minho Choi says that before he took Professor Bob Huish’s Development & Activism course, he had some “biases” about how activism worked and what it could accomplish. Now, the third-year International Development Studies student says, he understands not only what goes into a successful activism initiative, but the meaningful change that can result.

“The course really opened my mind about how complex activism is and how change can come through activism,” says Choi. “But I also learned that activism is not easy – it requires a lot of time and dedication and collaboration and planning.”

This past fall, students in Dr. Huish’s class focused their efforts on raising awareness and funds to support human rights in North Korea. Choi joined the four-person committee responsible for producing songs and music videos for the initiative.

Choi and his group-mates weren’t experts on music, so they reached out to collaborators in the Dal community.

“None of us had a strong musical background in terms of writing the chords or playing guitar,” he says. “We contacted DalJam (a Dal student society based on musical collaboration) and asked four guitarists if they’d like to help us play.”

A focus on solidarity

With the help of the musicians, Choi and his team produced three songs – one original, one with new lyrics grafted onto an existing instrumental and a cover of the tune created by students in the 2013 Development & Activism class.

“We practiced three or four times a week. Dr. Huish told us to focus on solidarity (with the victims of North Korea’s oppressive regime), so that’s what we wrote the lyrics about.”

The songs were sung during the Activism class’s march to the Halifax International Security Forum late last November, as the students sought to bring North Korea’s human rights abuses and the plight of its refugees to the attention of some of the world’s security experts and decision-makers.

“It certainly created noise in Halifax and awareness among the students,” says Choi.

To amplify the message to a broader audience, a camera crew made a video to accompany one of the songs sung by Choi’s group. The video, which can be seen on YouTube, features footage shot before, during and after the march.

In addition to raising awareness, Choi’s classmates raised funds to support Liberty in North Korea (LINK), an organization that aids refugees escaping the regime. Bake sales and special events earned more than $2,000 in donations.

Activism students need look no further than efforts students in the course made in previous years. The Camp 14 Project Facebook page was established in 2012 and in 2013, students in the course successfully helped to bring North Korean refugee Shin Dong-hyuk to Dalhousie for a visit (Shin was subsequently awarded an honourary degree by the university in 2014).

For Choi, Dr. Huish’s class was a musical, collaborative and educational experience.

“It was one of my favourite classes.”


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