It is not uncommon to turn on the news and hear yet another story of North Korea, Kim Jon-Il, nuclear weapons, or about the tension between North and South Korea. What you are much less likely to hear, however, are the tales of North Korea defectors and the horrors that are an everyday reality in North Korea. With the media in North Korea being strictly regulated, and North Koreans in such dire circumstances and under extreme surveillance, their stories go largely untold for fear of punishment, or even death.
One brave young woman is taking a stand to bring awareness to the world the plight of the North Koreans, and doing so by sharing her personal account of daily life in North Korea and how she made it out of the nightmare. Yeonmi Park has been creating ripples in the media recently with harrowing tales of her childhood and how she managed to escape. At the age of nine, she witnessed a schoolmate’s mother being publicly executed, for watching a forbidden movie. The movie was a James Bond movie, contraband worthy of the ultimate punishment, death. Her father being held as a political prisoner left her mother unable to provide for the family, a not uncommon plight of families in North Korea, and forcing them to survive off the land. Frogs, dragonflies, grass and anything edible became their staple diet, the only way they made it through the day without starving, as so many others have.
In 2007 her family decided that the only way they could escape living like this was to flee North Korea. They planned for the women to leave first, followed by her father. The women, Yeonmi, her mother, and her sister set out on their journey, but before they made it across the Gobi desert to the safety of Mongolia, they encountered many trials and the road to freedom was terrifying. Fleeing in the middle of one of the coldest nights of the year bribery, rape, and human trafficking became a new chapter in their tragic story.
For those few who make it out of North Korea’s guarded borders alive, the terror is far from over. Death threats, charges of exaggeration and lies, as well as the occasional hit men with poison tipped needles have been used to deter defectors from telling the truth about living in North Korea. Currently Yeonmi Park shared her story on youtube and has settled in South Korea and is an active civil rights activist, touring the world and sharing her story to raise awareness of the status of living in North Korea. Yeonmi’s book, In Order To Live, went on sale in September of 2015 and further chronicles her families’ journey to freedom.
Due to defectors starting an unprecedented grassroots movement revealing the truth about living in North Korea, more people are receiving assistance in leaving the country and there is even an underground railroad in place. While the media may focus on the leader being goofy, this is what flies beneath the radar.