Browse Category: Journey to Freedom

The Incredible Journey of Yeon-mi Park

Novelist and human rights activist Yeonmi Park remembers a time when she did not have the freedom to write about her life. In her words, until she escaped to China with her mother in 2007, she had no idea “what freedom” meant. Park’s humble life began on October 4, 1993, in North Korea. Park’s father, a civil servant, was arrested and imprisoned for smuggling metal. Park, along with her mother and sister, faced starvation as a result. When looking back, Park recalled on The Guardian that her family was often rationed something as simple as a frozen potato to eat. “We never questioned,” Park wrote in her autobiography, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom. Park and her sister, Eun-mi, were left to fend for themselves for more than a month as their mother attempted to help their father escape from prison. When she returned, the girls were told that they would be leaving North Korea. Eun-mi fled a day before Yeon-mi and her mother. The 13-year-old girl and her mother were aided by a human smuggler as they trekked from North Korea to China by foot. The pair crossed three mountains and a frozen river, but the worst was not over for them. The smuggler attempted to rape young Yeon-mi as payment for his services. Her mother saved her by offering herself instead. Yeon-mi was taken by the smuggler and forced into marriage until he released her in 2009. She made her way to South Korea where she reflected upon her stolen youth. “The river wasn’t entirely frozen, and I couldn’t swim,” Park went on to tell others. “I never for a moment that I could die, but I had to survive. Somewhere, I found strength.” Park and her mother re-united with Eun-mi in early 2014 and after working a series of jobs, she began making a stand as a human rights activist. She has gone on to pen her memoir and has spoken at forums throughout the world regarding her hopes for reform in North Korea and of unification between the divided north and south.