North Korea defector Yeomi Park is Taking Action!

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spacer“Kim Jong Un doesn’t like me at all,”
says 21-year-old defector from North Korea


Yeonmi Park captivated the audience with her remarkable story of survival trekking through the Gobi Desert

“Kim Jong Un doesn’t like me at all,” said Yeonmi Park, a 21-year-old North Korean defector turned activist. Talk about an understatement. But this was just one lighthearted line during a moving, tearful discussion on the second night of the Women in the World Summit featuring the dynamic Park, LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) president and CEO Hannah Song, and moderator, Today show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie.

Park grew up in the brutal and repressive North Korea as a child of privilege until her father was arrested for sending metals to China. He was sent to a labor camp — and Park and her mother set off on a long journey to freedom away from the oppressive regime. Park painted a grim portrait of life as a child in North Korea. “One of my earlier memories was my mom telling me not to even whisper, because the birds and mice can hear my whisper,” she said. “I was so surprised in the West to see parents encourage their children to express their feelings. I had to learn at that young of an age not to.”

There are as few countries that are as secretive and mysterious as North Korea, but what is known about the hermit kingdom is disturbing: 24 million people live in enforced poverty under an Orwellian strategy overseen by 32-year-old dictator Kim Jong Un.

The dictatorship extends to every facet of their lives. During her lessons in school, Park learned math problems like, “There are 10 Americans, and if you kill five of them, how many are left?” she recalled. “They told us that the rest of the world are impure and disgusting and it’s a dangerous place, and we have nothing to envy outside of the world, that our country was the best.”

As Park remembers, “In North Korea, everything is not free. Guards are telling us what to do and what to watch. We cannot think for ourselves and we are put into strict classes. My father became a prisoner, and I was a prisoner’s daughter and therefore didn’t have a future.”

In 2007, at age 13, Park fled from the isolated nation.

There are guards positioned on the borders of China ordered to shoot anyone seen fleeing on sight, and Park and her mother knew someone who helped them across the river. But that was only the beginning.

village-voice-tony-ortega-human-traffickingWhile in China, when a man threatened to rape Yeonmi, her mother refused to allow it, and she was raped instead to protect her daughter. They were both sold into human trafficking. “I never knew what human trafficking was, and I couldn’t imagine how people could sell other people. I couldn’t not believe they were negotiating price before my eyes,” said Park. “The man who bought me said if I became his mistress, he would buy my mother and my father. And so I became his mistress to see my mother and father again.” Once her father arrived in China, he was diagnosed and died from colon cancer. “I had to bury his ashes at 3 a.m. in the middle of the night,” she recalled. “There was nobody I could call and say my father had died. I still remember that cold night, sitting next to him.”

Park and her mother understood they needed to get out of China: “We wanted to live like human beings with dignity.” They crossed the Gobi Desert with five people on a cold night — “it was minus-40 degrees, she said, so no one would think that someone would cross the desert.” Park was then only 15 years old. “We followed a compass at first, and then we followed the stars to north and to freedom.”

Hannah Song embodies bravery every day in her job as the president and CEO of LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) a modern-day underground railroad in North Korea, and pointed out there are tens of thousands of North Koreans fleeing across the border to China, where they’re classified as “economic migrants” for the country’s own strategic interests.

Guthrie took issue with some of the West’s media coverage of the country. Newspapers and TV shows like to focus more on the antics of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un — look at his wacky behavior and hair! — obscuring the utter and total brutality of the regime.

“This is a 70-year long extreme cult of personality passed through the bloodline that exists in North Korea,” said Song. “The leaders are deified to a certain extent. The media has a responsibility on how they perpetuate the narrative about North Korea. I think one of the narrative issues that North Korean people are just fanatic loyalists and brainwashed automatons or passive victims of the regime, but they are not at all.”

People like Park, who are unafraid to speak out, are a remarkable step towards progress. Song points to her and other active agents of change: “They are driving these change from the grassroots up, and that’s creating a lot of pressure on the leader.”

And sometimes this enlightenment comes in small places — or in the form of a blockbuster movie. Park recalled seeing a black market copy of Titanic, which showed her the power of love and humanity and that there was something else out there beyond the North Korean borders.

Yeonmi Park, 21-year-old defector, North Korean Human Rights Activist, Hannah Song, President and CEO, LINK (Liberty In North Korea) and Savannah Guthrie, Co-anchor, The Today Show on 'The Great Escape' at The 2015 Women In The World Summit,  Lincoln Center, New York City; 4/23/2015

Yeonmi Park, 21-year-old defector, North Korean Human Rights Activist, Hannah Song, President and CEO, LINK (Liberty In North Korea) and Savannah Guthrie, Co-anchor, The Today Show on ‘The Great Escape’ at The 2015 Women In The World Summit, Lincoln Center, New York City; 4/23/2015

After Park concluded her gripping account of fleeing the reclusive country, Guthrie asked Park what she wants the world to know.

Her response electrified the audience: “For the first time in my life, I own me. I own myself, and this is so powerful to me. I always belonged to the states or to a man who bought me, and I have a voice now. Freedom allowed me to have a voice. I want to use this voice, and I want everyone else to use their voice, too. I want to say that people in North Korea are dying for food and freedom, and it’s not freedom of expression — it’s of wearing jeans or watching movies.

These people are just like us.

The girls of 14 and 15 years old are being sold for two hundred dollars. They fear what you fear. The people in North Korea have hope. They love their parents and their sons. These people are just like us. They deserve what we deserve here. I want to let the world know that we are the same. And that it’s not only North Korean rights. It’s all of our rights. It’s human rights.”

And with that, the crowd rose, and gave Park the thunderous standing ovation she deserved.

Source: KARA CUTRUZZULA04.23.15


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