A young girl’s harrowing tale of life in North Korea has captured the world’s attention. Yeonmi Park fled the oppressive regime when she was only 13 years old, and underwent immense trauma in her quest for freedom. Now she’s a human rights advocate and author, giving presentations around the world to raise awareness of the unbearable conditions in her home country. This video of her speaking at the 2014 One Young World Summit in Dublin was recently recirculated on Facebook and has garnered over 77 million views.
Park grew up in an upper middle class home in a trade hub of North Korea. Her father was a civil servant and her mother was an army nurse. But “North Korea is an unnatural country,” as Park says darkly in the video. Despite the family’s relative wealth and social standing, they were subject to the brainwashing and torture that were commonplace in the Kim regime.
“When I was four years old, I was warned by my mother not to even whisper — the birds and mice could hear me… I thought the North Korean dictator could read my mind,” recalls Park.
Public executions of “traitors” were standard. When Park was nine years old, she witnessed the execution of her friend’s mother. Her crime? Watching an American movie.
Growing up, Park never experienced the Western media most of us are steeped in. There were “no movies about love stories… no Romeo and Juliet. Every story was propaganda to promote the Kim dictators.” It was not until she got her hands on an illegal copy of Titanic that she realized there was more to the world than what she had experienced. As small as that moment might sound to some of us, it was a turning point in Park’s life — “a vision that would ultimately drive her to search for a world where people were well-fed, had the freedom to love, and understood the concept of liberty and happiness,” writes The Huffington Post.
So at the age of 13, Park and her mother set out to flee to neighboring China. But the journey nearly cost them their lives. Human traffickers helped them cross the border, but once they arrived the traffickers demanded that Park sleep with them as payment. Her mother begged them to take her instead. “There is a saying in North Korea,” Park explains. “‘Women are weak, but mothers are strong.’ My mother allowed herself to be raped in order to protect me.”
Their lives as refugees in China were scarcely better than when they were puppets of the regime in North Korea. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in China, and “70 percent of North Korean women and teenage girls are being victimized — sometimes sold for as a little as $200.”
Eventually the Park family was able to arrange for the father to be smuggled into China as well. But their reunion was brief — he was diagnosed with colon cancer and, without any proper medical care, passed away a few months after crossing the border. “I had to bury him at 3 a.m. in secret,” says Park. “I was only 14 years old. I couldn’t even cry, I was afraid to be sent back to North Korea.”
After living in refugee shelters for two years, Park and her mother traveled to Mongolia to seek asylum. They walked across the Gobi desert all night long in search of freedom — “I felt only the stars were with us.”
But when they arrived at the border, a group of guards stopped them and threatened to send them back. The women were so desperate to escape that they held knives to their throats, pledging to die before they would be sent back to their oppressive country. “I thought it was the end of my life,” says Park. “We were saying goodbye to one another.”
Their bold actions worked — the guards allowed them to pass and they were eventually flown to Seoul, South Korea, to live as free women.
Now Park is sharing her story with the world in hopes of raising awareness of the brutal reality back in North Korea. She says she is shocked by how often she is asked if she’s from North or South Korea, as if the rest of the world is oblivious to how traumatic life is in the north, and how difficult it is to escape.
“That’s why I’m here and why I tell my life story, because people don’t realize what’s happening to people there,” she said at the 2017 Just Peace Summit.
“No human deserves to be oppressed just because of their birthplace… Please join me as we make this a global movement to free North Koreans.”
Source: One Young World.