South Korean activist Yeonmi Park has a lot to be thankful for. She has gone through more in her 22 years than most go through in a lifetime. Park, her mother and sister were able to escape the evil regime of Kim Jung Il and make their way to China. But it was not without great personal loss; her father died of prostate cancer before he could make the journey.
Today, Yeonmi is one of the most outspoken human rights advocate in the world. Yeonmi realized her calling after the incredible hardships she and her family endured not only in North Korea but also while in the company of human traffickers. She has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the BBC among others. She also lectures and volunteers at a number of human right organizations around the globe.
Yeonmi’s desire for freedom came at a very young age. At around 7, she saw a bootleg version of Titanic, which is banned in North Korea. She says the movie sparked something inside her, which made her yearn even more for freedom. Yeonmi had witnessed first hand the brutality of Kim Jung Il’s regime. “The state controlled everything. Any whispers against the government would result in you being executed publicly,” says Yeonmi. She even watched one of her neighbors being shot in the town square for something minor. That was a common occurrence as Yeonmi remembers.
Yeonmi says on Nknews.org despite all of the bad in North Korea, she still had better than most, initially. Her father worked for the goverment, which gave them a few minor perks. The trouble began for her family when her father was accused of smuggling gold. He was tried, convicted and sent to a hard labor camp. Yeonmi says that’s when she knew she and her family had to escape. The family’s arduous journey started when they were put in contact with Chinese traffickers who were just as brutal. She witnessed beatings and rapes along with other heinous acts.
The North Korean Army had orders to shoot individuals attempting to defect; there were many caught and shot. On one very cold night, Yeonmi and her mother (her sister had already escaped and reunited with them later) made their way across the snowy Gobi Desert into China. From there she never looked back.
After finding shelter with a humanitarian organization, Yeonmi realized she had to tell her story. It is her job to stop human trafficking and help others around the world who found themselves in the same predicament as she.