Life in North Korea is Anything But Living

Not many photographs exist of Yeonmi Park in her youth. The few that remain speak volumes. No one featured in them is smiling. Yeonmi was born in North Korea where free expression does not exist. When questioned about life in North Korea, Yeonmi’s memories are as bleak as the subjects in the photographs. “It is dark a lot in North Korea,” Yeonmi explained. “The power would go out a lot, and people are starving.” Yeonmi was born in 1993, a time when great famine swept through the country. Knowing that her family would starve to death, Yeonmi encouraged her mother to illegally lead her family to China. Mrs. Park enlisted the help of two smugglers to guide them. Eunmi, Yeonmi’s older sister, left with others instead. The smugglers led the Parks through forests, mountains, and across frozen rivers until they reached their destination. It was then that Yeonmi and her mother were raped and forced into slavery. Yeonmi was taken as a child by one of the smugglers. She was just 13 years old. Yeonmi was freed years later, as was her mother. They tried to reach South Korea by way of Mongolia, but they were detained by the border patrol. Threatened with deportation, the Parks faced certain death. They pleaded that they should be sent to South Korea instead of back to their native country. They were overwhelmed when the government sent them by helicopter to South Korea, after a period of two months. They were equally overwhelmed by their sense of newfound freedom. “We did not know the concept of freedom,” Yeonmi explained on Youtube. “There are so many things that exist here that we did not have in North Korea. We don’t even have words for most of these things.” The years of oppression took their toll on Yeonmi. Bitter, she threw herself into her studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University.It was there that the concept of human compassion came to life for Yeonmi. “We must not allow China to return refugees to North Korea,” Yeonmi warned on DailyMail. “They will be killed.” Yeonmi now divides her time between writing, working at a think-tank, and engaging as a human rights activist.