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Yeonmi Park: An Agent for Change

Most people don’t know much about North Korea, and this is the way that the North Korean government most likely wants to keep it. But defectors like Yeonmi Park are determined to change this, which is why Park has gone around the world speaking out about the difficult childhood she experienced in North Korea. Although Park is only 22 years old, she has experienced more than several lifetimes full of pain and sorrow. From a very early age, she was exposed to such horrendous acts of violence that one has to wonder how she was even able to rise above it. For instance, when Park was only nine years old, she saw her best friend’s mother brutally executed along with a group of other people. Yeonmi Park spoke on the Guardian and describes the woman as kind and sweet, a very maternal figure who would give her cookies. But the North Korean government was determined to carry out its evil plans regardless of what anyone else thought about the matter. When Park’s father was caught selling metals to the Chinese, the family’s fate took a severe nosedive. For two years, her mother was interrogated about what she might have known. At one point, Park’s mother was imprisoned for going somewhere without having proper permission. Although other people were starving around them, Yeonmi said that he was so focused on her own physical sensation of hunger that she couldn’t even pay attention to them. She said that she got the idea to flee to China “for a bowl of rice” because she was sick of subsisting off of grass, grasshoppers, and frozen potatoes. Unfortunately, the situation became even more horrendous once the Park women finally escaped North Korea. Because they had no money—and China does not grant asylum to North Koreans—they were still as dirt poor as they were in North Korea. One of Yeonmi’s first memories of China was seeing her mother raped, and then being sold into human trafficking. It is a horrific tale, but it does have a good ending. Once again calling upon their resilience, Yeonmi and her mother walked across the Gobi desert, all the way to Mongolia. It was under the cover of darkness and it was freezing outside, but they managed to make it to the South Korean embassy, where they applied for asylum. Eventually they began to heal, trying to create some semblance of normal lives in a world that was completely foreign to them. Yeonmi often speaks of how beautiful the South Korean bathrooms appeared to her when she first saw them, as she was unaccustomed to what seemed—to her eyes—to be outright luxury. Compared to the situation in North Korea, it most certainly was. Now Yeonmi Park works tirelessly in her role as a human rights advocate. She’s a student, a volunteer for many organizations, and also takes time to go on speaking engagements around the world. Yeonmi has been interviewed on BBC by several well-known television reporters. Her autobiography was released by Penguin in September, 2015.

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