Yeonmi Park’s Journey from Slave to Human Rights Advocate

Yeonmi Park, along with her mother and sister, escaped from North Korea in 2007. Yeonmi lived with her parents and sister in Hyesan. Mr. and Mrs. Park both held jobs, but struggled to make ends meet. It was a time when great famine swept the country and many people made extra money by smuggling illegal goods. Yeonmi’s father was no exception.

Mr. Park was arrested and sentenced to hard labor, leaving the family to face starvation. Yeonmi recalled a time when the three were rationed a single bag of rice to feed themselves for a month. The family was at risk of starvation. Yeonmi’s mother decided that it was time for the family to leave North Korea.

Yeonmi’s older sister, Eunmi, left before her mother and sister. Mrs. Park hired human smugglers to guide them across the rough terrain. They journeyed through the cold of night through forests, through mountains, and across frozen rivers. When they reached China, not all was as they expected. One of the smugglers attempted to rape Yeonmi, but her mother offered herself instead. The two were then enslaved by the same men they had paid to guide them to freedom.

Yeonmi and her mother were freed after two years, but were still at risk. They were in China illegally and would be deported if their identities were discovered. Yeonmi’s mother once again paid for a guide, this time through the Gobi Desert. They were apprehended by border patrol, but were freed two months later. Yeonmi and her mother were deported to South Korea where they learned the meaning of freedom and democracy.

“There are so many things that exist here that did not exist in North Korea,” Yeonmi said on the NK News. “And there are so many things we were never allowed. There is plenty of food. I never dreamed such freedom could exist.”

Yeonmi Park wrote a novel which was released on Amazon about her ordeal. She struggled to adapt to life in South Korea before enrolling in college where she studied criminal justice. She now spends the majority of her time traveling the word as a human rights activist.