Day 7: A Day with My Hero

18 Feb

Today, I finally met one of the heroes of my life. I got to meet one of them, Dr. Paul Farmer, when I graduated from college, and today, I met another, Ms. Gay McDougall. You may not know who she is, but in human rights circle, especially regarding women’s human rights during wartime and minority issues, she is the go-to expert. She is a human rights lawyer who has been in the field for very long and has been all around the world, especially Asia and Africa, to advice on legal issues and to support victims of war crime, including systematic rape and genocide.

I encountered her name first a few years into my volunteering at the Korean Council (that I mentioned in my previous post). She was a special rapporteur for the UN Commission on Human Rights, and I translated some of the materials that she produced. I was thoroughly impressed by the width and depth of her writing as it included so many different types of human rights violation against women all around the world, including the military sexual slavery by Japan, and she put the facts and recommendations together impeccably. From that day on, she became my hero that I one day would like to meet.

And today, as I was asked to volunteer for language interpretation for her visit to the shelter that the “Comfort Women” survivors are living, I gladly said yes. I picked her up at the hotel with a Korean Council staff member, and the impression that I had on her was that she is very down to earth. I was not imagining someone scary and stuck up, but simply the fact that her being one of the rock stars in the field could be a factor to act in a certain way, perhaps distant from the people that she will be together only for a couple of hours. The way that she was treating me (and others) was very sincere and kind, and that made me feel less nervous about meeting her.

The discussion with Ms. McDougall, the survivors, head of the Korean Council, and the 2 scholars who were also visiting was very meaningful, and although I was busy catching all the words, taking notes, translating and occasionally participating in the discussion, I was able to feel again why I have become so passionate about the topic to begin with. Although I cannot mention all the details of the conversations, I definitely felt that there are still hopes for the survivors of military sexual slavery by Japan and those whose human rights have been violated in many other war contexts so far. The discussion was rich and forward looking, seeking further solidarity and collaboration in the movement, and I was so thrilled to be surrounded by like-minded people who understand each other’s passion. And yes, I did feel that my legal vocabularies are very limited, not to mention that my understanding in human rights law could be improved. It made me feel maybe I should study law at some point in my life (I know some of you’re saying “nooooo” on top of your lungs).

After the fruitful meeting, I accompanied her back to the hotel, and we had a small chat. I told her that I always wanted to meet her ever since I got to translate her writing, because she is such a big person in human rights. She told me with a smile, “You know, maybe you can be even bigger than me one day,” and encouraged me to pursue what I love to do. She told me that she was in corporate law for 2 years after law school which consumed a lot of time and energy, but after she moved to non-profit sector, she realized that she was putting in even more hours and energy into her work. She put her everything into this work, this time because it’s something valuable, something that she loves to do. I heard from a lot of people that I should do what I love, but since the advice came from my hero, I was touched even more. It makes me hope and dream again.

I don’t know exactly what profession I will be going into in the future. Perhaps I will go through several to figure out what I love to do. But I know for sure that I want to add more values to the community and society that I belong to and work to improve women’s human rights, wherever I am based, whatever I get to do.

And I hope that I do get to inspire other people as well.


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