In Propria Persona
The story of Yeonmi Park is one of sacrifice and conviction. Yeonmi is an internationally-recognized human rights advocate who defected from North Korea and made her way south in 2007. Although quite young, she has made a name for herself by reporting, speaking, and advocating for North Korean refugees.
Yeonmi gained recognition in 2014 when she gave rousing speeches at the Oslo Freedom Forum and at The One Young World Summit in Dublin, Ireland. Her intensely personal experiences at the hands of the oppressive North Korean government have filled her with passion, and she has dedicated her life to helping the people of North Korea by advocating on their behalf.
Born in Heysan, North Korea, in 1993, Yeonmi Park grew up in a wealthy family. Her father’s civil servant position with the ruling Workers Party and her mother’s status as a nurse for the North Korean Army put them in a position of power and affluence for most of Yeonmi’s childhood.
As a young girl, she first got a taste of life outside the North Korean borders by viewing the movie Titanic. She saw that it was possible for people to love others and to be willing to die for each other.
She developed her interest in human rights issues due to some personal events that shaped her beliefs. To begin with, her father was arrested and sentenced to hard labor for illegal business activities like smuggling while he was a Workers Party staffer. When she was nine, she was forced to witness the execution of a family friend for selling pirated DVDs. These events led her to believe that her government was oppressive and cruel.
Park’s family began plotting to escape to China once her father was released from the labor camp where he was imprisoned. Yeonmi’s older sister Eunmi had escaped to China prior to the family’s plans. The family took a circuitous journey with the help of human smugglers, crossing the border into China. Chinese authorities spent a lot of effort to try to track them down and return them to North Korea, but the family successfully eluded capture. Later, with the assistance of Christian missionaries from Korea and China, the family relocated to Mongolia. After a period there, South Korean diplomats made arrangements for the family to come to Seoul, South Korea, where they arrived in 2009. It was here in Seoul that Yeonmi became a human rights advocate, championing the cause of the downtrodden and oppressed citizens of North Korea.
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Yeonmi Park does everything in her power to ensure that the world does not forget about the suffering of ordinary citizens of North Korea. By exposing what happened to her and to her family, she is giving a voice to those silent people still trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Her generation, self-described as the “Black Market Generation”, have begun to damage the totalitarian authority of North Korea’s ruling class by exposing young people to social media, western journalism, and capitalistic ideals.
Living and working in Seoul, Yeonmi is studying criminal justice at Dongguk University. Along with her studies, she has done some work co-hosting a popular podcast series called North Korea Today. The podcast is about North Korean topics and refugee life after they have escaped from oppression. She has also been a featured guest on a number of print and radio news outlets, including the Washington Post, BBC, and Voice of America.
Yeonmi is currently writing a book about her experiences escaping from North Korea and becoming a human rights activist. She continues to champion for the cause of suffering of the people in her home country and holds out hope for a possible reunification between the two countries. Keeping up pressure on the regime in North Korea and publicizing the many atrocities they commit against their citizens is Yeonmi’s and other activists’ primary goals.
She is also a fellow at the internationally-renowned for-profit think tank called Freedom Factory. Here, Yeonmi is able to leverage the power of a group of advocates for putting pressure on the North Korean government.
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From her first speech in front of a global audience at the conference in Dublin, Yeonmi Park has captivated thousands. Her story has been shared on many news media sites, and she has done a lot of writing on her own.
She has not been without detractors during her revelation of the atrocities being committed in North Korea. The general consensus is that the backlash comes from North Korean operatives in an attempt to discredit Park’s important message. This is unfortunate, and is a common symptom of exposing the truth about cruel regimes. Park continues to stand firm, dedicating herself to helping others in a quest for freedom.
Yeonmi Park has almost 10000 followers on her active Twitter feed, and well over 20000 fans on her Facebook page. On social media, she is able to spread her message with a vocal global audience, helping to build a groundswell of resistance against the cruel North Korean ruling government. Her social media feeds are filled with positive messages, news items, and information about her presentations at conferences and seminars.
She has been engaged in many speaking engagements, and many of her speeches and presentations can be found on YouTube. Her story has been featured on dozens of websites, and her work is heralded by journalists and writers from all over the world.
Everywhere she goes, Yeonmi is met with fascination and solidarity by like-minded individuals who want peace and freedom for all throughout the world.