“Life outside of North Korea is heaven. It is a paradise,” Yeonmi Park told The Guardian. “There are so many things that exist here that we don’t even have words for in North Korea. They simply do not exist there.”
According to Yeonmi, life in the “Hermit Country” is as dismal and bleak as many stories would have the world believe. As a young child, Yeonmi was often told to keep her thoughts and emotions a secret.
“My mother told me that the birds could hear me,” Yeonmi continued on The Guardian. “They could see and hear all. I thought that the regime could hear everything, even my thoughts.”
Yeonmi’s parents were among the many that turned to smuggling contraband when famine ravaged the country during the 90s. The items sold and traded were items that most living in the western world take for granted. Yeonmi’s father was arrested for smuggling precious metals. Yeonmi, her sister, and mother, were left to starve without her father’s income. Mrs. Park made the decision to relocate the family to China.
Mrs. Park paid smugglers to guide them to China. Sixteen-year-old Eunmi grew impatient and left before her mother and sister. It would be many years before they would see each other again.
The smugglers guided Yeonmi and Mrs. Park through darkened forests, mountains, and across the partially-frozen Yalu River. The horrors, however, did not end at the country’s borders. When they reached China, the smugglers knew that they were at an advantage. They raped Mrs. Park. She and young Yeonmi were both sold into slavery.
Yeonmi and her mother never lost hope. When they were freed two years later, they made their way to South Korea. It was there that Yeonmi discovered democracy and the true meaning of freedom.
“There is so much food,” Yeonmi said. “I didn’t understand the concept of freedom then. My father died not knowing this sort of democracy could even exist.”
Yeonmi took advantage of her newly found freedom to better her situation. She enrolled in criminal justice studies at a nearby university. She wrote a memoir of her harrowing journey. Yeonmi now spends her time speaking on youngvoicesadvocates about life in North Korea and the human-rights violations that take place there on a daily basis.