At an age when many young American women become famous for their pouty lips, prodigious breasts and wild antics, young activists like Yeonmi Park and Malala Yousafzai are busy putting their skills to work to create much needed global change.
Born in 1993 in Heysan, North Korea, Yoen-mi Park was born into a world of wealth and privilege. At least for a short time. But it wasn’t long before the despotic leadership of Kim Jong-Il ushered in a season of famine, poverty and extreme oppression. Growing up, Yeon-mi learned two things: to hate foreigners and to never waver in showing admiration, loyalty and support for her Beloved Leader. She quickly learned just how harsh the penalties could be for failure to do so. One of Yeon-mi’s earliest memories was of watching her best friend’s mother being shot by a firing squad for a very minor infraction. In school, the message of hatred toward foreigners – and Americans in particular – was frequently reinforced by such things as math problems that stated: if you have 15 Americans and you kill 10 of them, how many will you be left with?
By the time Yeon-mi was 7, her parents had resorted to smuggling precious metals into China as a means to support their family. When Yeon-mi was 9, however, her father was arrested and sentenced to 17 years in a forced labor camp. There, he was beaten severely and treated so poorly that he soon fell severely ill. Yeon-mi’s parents soon realized that if they were to survive, they had to get out of North Korea.
A plan was made to cross the Yalu river into China – a journey that had to be made in the dead of winter when the river was frozen. Once there, however, they would still not be safe, as Chinese authorities regularly tracked down defectors and sent them back to North Korea. But even that threat was not as great as the fear of what might happen if they stayed in North Korea, and so they set off. Yeon-mi’s younger sister went first, and was soon followed by Yeon-mi and her mother.
While they did not encounter any problems with authorities in China, the problems they did experience might be considered far greater. Yeon-mi’s mother was raped, they became separated from Yeon-mi’s younger sister, and Yeon-mi herself was sold into the sex trafficking industry. A man who wanted Yeon-mi as his mistress offered to get her father out of North Korea if she would agree to be his mistress. Yeon-mi agreed in order to have her family back together again, and the man delivered on his promise. Yeon-mi, her mother and her father were once again reunited, only to have her father die soon after. Yeon-mi was forced to bury her father in the dead of night on the side of a cold, lonely mountain.
Eventually, Yeon-mi and her mother made their way across a treacherous stretch of the God desert into Mongolia, where they sought refuge at the South Korean Embassy. They now live in Seoul, South Korea, where Yeon-mi is working on a book about her experiences, and becoming a widely known activist against the atrocities still taking place in North Korea. Miraculously, Yeon-mi’s younger sister Eun-mi also escaped and was reunited with them once again.