Defecting from North Korea Not Only Brought Terror, But Hope

North Korea, “The Hermit Country,” is shrouded in darkness. It is a country that remains largely a mystery to the outside world. “North Korea was and is dark,” said human rights activist Yeonmi Park. “The electricity goes out often, even in the cities.” Yeonmi and her family defected from North Korea when she was a teen. She had witnessed the execution of others at a young age. The country experienced a famine, and Yeonmi’s family was faced with starvation. “The regime controlled everything,” Yeonmi recalled on The Reason. “I can remember when we had a single bag of government rice to feed three of us for a month. Sometimes we were given frozen potatoes, but we would eat what we could find. Even grass.” Photographs of Yeonmi’s early life reflect the bleak mood set by the Kim Jong-un regime. There are no smiles to be seen, not even the slightest hint of happiness. “I watched as my friend’s mother was executed for watching a James Bond movie,” Yeonmi said. “I had watched Titanic. There is only one television station in North Korea.” Yeonmi and her mother made a daring escape from North Korea. They traveled through the dead of night, through the frozen and dangerous terrain. Yeonmi cried but knew they must keep moving. When Yeonmi and her mother reached China, they thought they would be able to begin living life. Yeonmi’s mother was instead raped by the smugglers that aided them in their journey. Thirteen-year-old Yeonmi was forced to marry and work as a sex slave. The Parks were later freed and made their way to South Korea. Their senses were overwhelmed by sights and sounds they had never seen or heard before. Their emotions were also overwhelmed with feelings that they could not describe. “We did not have words for these things in North Korea,” Yeonmi said. “Stress and mental illness. They did not exist.” Yeonmi enrolled in college where she learned about human compassion. Those teachings inspired her to write a memoir of her ordeal and to take a stand against North Korea as a human rights activist.