Yeonmi Park is a North Korea defector, who has become a world renowned human rights activist and global speaker. At just 21-years old, she has spoken at numerous events around the world, including her now famous speech at the One Young World Summit in 2014. Her powerful testimony and harrowing story are shedding light on what life is really like in North Korea.
Park grew up in a family of privilege in the otherwise very repressive country of North Korea. Her father worked for the government and her mother was a nurse for the country’s military. However, after the economic collapse in the 1990s, Park’s family started having financial problems, as did many families in the country.
Looking for other means of income, Park’s father began to smuggle metal to China. Her father was later arrested and sent to a prison camp. This made conditions even more dire for Park, her mother, and her older sister, Eunmi. Park’s mother made the difficult decision to defect from North Korea into China. However, her sister fled before her mother was able to get things in order for their escape.
In 2007, Park, at just 13-years old, and her mother successfully crossed over the Chinese border. Both she and her mother were sold into human trafficking. Park retells the story of listening to the men negotiate how much they would pay for her. Her father would later join them, but he died of colon cancer while they were still in China.
After her father’s death, her mother realized it was time to leave China. With the help of Christian missionaries, Park and her mother were able to reach South Korean safely, by going through Mongolia. They would also be later reunited with Park’s older sister Eunmi.
Park of yeonmi.net now dedicates her life to helping fight oppression. Her hope is that by sharing her story, others will realize just how dire conditions are for the people living in North Korea. She speaks of horrible conditions she and her family had to live under in North Korea, such as the executions she was forced to witness and the need to eat insects and grass in order to survive.
Millions of people from around the world have heard Park’s story. Her speech at the One Young World Summit gave her global recognition. She has since spoken at numerous events, including TEDx and Oslo Freedom. She has also written stories for well-known publications, such as The Washington Post and has recently released her first book, entitled, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom.
Park refers to North Korea as the “darkest place in the world,” and she hopes to help other understand the plight of her people. She is a volunteer for the Freedom Factory Corporation and an active member of LINK (Liberty in North Korea), which is an organization that helps refugees that are hiding in China.