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Jeju: Blood, Tears, Hope

I was born on Jeju Island, where mornings are met by the refreshing air that carries the songs of the Haenyo as they make their way to mudflat seashores while the evenings ferry the warm chatter of neighbors through opened windows that also welcome in the salty air. Jeju always gave me a sense of freedom, as expansive as the open seas that shaped this land of lava stone into a natural wonder, and today as also home to Branksome Hall, it became my port of horizonless intellectual journeys. With my increasing gratitude for my environment, I became interested in Jeju's history. Subsequently, I discovered a severe tragedy that had wrought this island in chaos, blood, and tears. With a growing passion for law and justice, I could not stay silent, especially in the absence of an official acknowledgment of events that can only be seen as a rejection of South Korea’s core democratic values. 

Referencing our vision to achieve equal human treatment by "molding an informed society,"  the THEMIS Academy in Branksome Hall Asia worked to decloak the Jeju 4.3 Incident, which has become a forgotten historical catastrophe. The seed of this Service CASE began with speaking at the Jeju 4.3 Speech Contest, but it matured with silent contemplations as we translated “제주 4.3을 묻는 너에게,” which is accepted as the most comprehensive and accurate historical recount of the Jeju 4.3 Incident. Other prominent books like “순이 삼촌" already had a bilingual English edition while this book only had Korean and French versions available, so we immediately grasped the opportunity to take action. “제주 4.3을 묻는 너에게" mainly underscores the testimonies of the massacre in Jeju and delves into stories of innocent children and women who were violated by the intractable and devastating events that took place during this era.

Our grit for finishing this project however was not an endless resource. The process of translating a book in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was riddled with countless and unforeseen difficulties. Concerned about losing progress, I conducted weekly online sessions to assign each member of our group about 2-3 pages to translate. Although grammatical  flaws abounded, with the aid of the PTA fund, we were able to successfully recruit a professional editor who could polish the book for readability and expression. Those who read this book especially enjoyed the poems which were translated with an artful balance of poeticism and literal accuracy. For example, the use of the word “flesh”  was expressed in terms of speaking about the ways that violation of the victims' humanity had physically touched their souls.

Things can’t always go perfectly. The publisher, possessing copyright, declined my proposal to share translated copies of the work with universities and institutions outside of Korea, unless I agreed to pay a significant sum to acquire these rights. The only action I can take now is to donate the book to school libraries and I am now doing this. However, I will also carry the historical evidence contained in the book to my university, and continue this fight against injustice.

History tends to paint a holistic view of the world that it has become today — storytelling a culture, visualizing the past, and constructing systems. Even though it can seem rather abstract when living in such a digital time, especially as we are separated by screens, peace is by far the most paramount virtue that must be achieved. All of us have the potential to prevent agonizing events by flexing the obligation to educate the masses since we are the inheritors, stewards, authors, and actors of society. People say world peace is unattainable, but deep inside my heart, I have a firm belief that at least if we engender a compulsory education for history even beyond the pages prescribed between the glossy covers of textbooks, we could create a fairer and safer society.

As a new Head Girl in Branksome Hall Asia, all I’ve wanted to say is to “take advantage of everything.” Taking advantage of the single-sex school, I have faith that we could initiate anything without hesitation and without any gender-based stereotyping. Branksome students can embrace their uncertainties but simultaneously overcome their limits to achieve more of their potential, eventually gaining the confidence to impact something larger than themselves. Yes, I’ve seen many people being afraid to stand out from the crowd. Changes will not come if we wait for someone else though. We, young women, who are aware of the injustice throughout history, near our homes and also far away, may yet be the changemakers that we've been waiting for. We can be the ones who are the instruments and history writers and initiate a cause despite the powers that refuse ethical reasoning. We have this strength because it has always been the youth that have been the forerunners to the greatest social revolutions. We must use our knowledge wisely as globally-minded and young leaders who are more than enough to be qualified as members of Branksome Hall Asia's powerful service community.


By Gayeon Koh (Grade 11)
THEMIS Academy