Young adults have a lot of insults heaped upon them these days by those in the older generations, but some of them have demonstrated that they truly are committed to building a better future. One of those remarkable individuals is Yeonmi Park, a 21-year-old college student who suffered unfathomable horrors in her first 15 years of life. While it makes one shudder to think of what she had to go through, she has taken the brave step of deciding to share her experiences with the world. As more people come to realize the struggles that she and others like her have endured, the likelihood of being able to stop those atrocities from happening increases.
There are two distinct parts to Yeonmi’s tragic past. The first concerns her childhood up through the age of 13. During this time, she lived in North Korea, which is one of the most oppressive countries in the world. Indeed, it is dangerously self-contained; citizens are allowed little exposure to the outside world, and the rest of the world rarely catches a glimpse of what life is like for those who live there. This young woman can attest, however, that it is not pleasant.
The biggest problem in North Korea is a lack of freedom. People who live there are told what to wear, what to eat, what to watch… even what to think. When they fail to comply with any of the stringent rules, the consequences can be disproportionately severe. Simple infractions may carry long prison sentences, and Yeonmi even witnessed executions on yeonmi.net that were meted out because of minor crimes. The citizens live in fear and are rigidly controlled, even as many of them long for a taste of true liberty.
She and her mother thought that they would find that freedom when they left North Korea and managed to get across the border into China. On the other side of their harrowing escape, however, they found another prison in the form of human trafficking. Both of them were treated horribly, and her mother was even raped. Ultimately, it was Yeonmi who saved her mother and got her father out of the labor camp where he was sent. She did this by agreeing to be a rich man’s mistress. When her father succumbed to cancer, she knew she must make another escape.
The final trial for Yeonmi and her mother was crossing the harsh climate of the Gobi Desert, which ultimately led them into the relative safety of Mongolia. From there, they went to South Korea, where she is currently a university student in Seoul. She is not afraid to speak out about what happened to her, and her passionate words draw huge crowds.
Yeonmi plans to continue as an ambassador of human rights and an advocate for the most vulnerable in society, especially back in her home country of North Korea. She hopes that her upcoming book will further inspire those in freer countries to lend a hand to those living under dire constraints.