This year, Saejowi provided coaching for ten North Korean defector women through our annual "coaching" program promoting mental health. The program ran from May 2019 to August 2019 and was divided into Part One (with seven weekly sessions) and Part Two (with five weekly sessions).
The program addressed how to breathe more deeply and intentionally to relax your muscles and reduce insomnia. It also aimed to alleviate participants' depression and anxiety by providing a space to share their present troubles and reorient themselves towards positive thinking through "gratitude diaries."
Participants shared various psychological and physical difficulties: many suffered from insomnia, while others said that their seventeen to twenty years of living in fear in China had made them constantly clench their teeth or shoulders in anxiety. Many participants also had conflicts with sons or daughters they had left behind in North Korea during the days of the famine; many children felt betrayed or resentful about the parents they barely remembered anymore, and their meetings often resulted in hurtful words.
The participants comforted each other and found ways to process their traumatic experiences more thoroughly. Our coaching expert advised participants to inhabit the present more fully, rather than worrying about the past or present, and helped participants identify the thoughts behind their sudden emotions or physical pains. "Treat your thoughts like visitors," the coaching expert suggested. "Just as you would to a regular visit, say, 'Here you are again! Welcome in.' Don't try too hard to fight those thoughts when they come. By understanding the thoughts you are experiencing, you can gain more control over the resulting emotions or bodily response."
By the end of the coaching session, many participants were better able to process their painful experiences; they also said they were sleeping longer hours at night. One participant who had been involved in particularly painful struggles with her son said joyfully that they had communicated their love for each other over text, and were trying to become better at understanding each other's thoughts and feelings. The participants had a rice cake party at the last session to celebrate, and expressed gratitude for everyone who had supported them along their difficult life journeys.