I’ve been staying up late to read Min Jin Lee’s incredible new book Pachinko, so Korea was already on my mind when several people on my Facebook feed shared this now-viral video of a young woman speaking about her escape from North Korea.
She is human rights activist Yeonmi Park, and her 2014 speech at the One Young World Summit was just the beginning of her efforts to help the people of North Korea. She has since become a well-known speaker and writer on human rights.
In her 2015 memoir, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, Park describes how she escaped with her family through a harrowing journey across the Gobi Desert. After surviving rape, hunger, and the imprisonment and death of her father, she made her way to South Korea and, eventually, to America, where she now studies economics at Columbia University.
In many of her speeches, she references the movie Titanic, which she watched illegally while living in North Korea. She said the love story, along with other movies, became her vision of a world outside North Korea, where people are forbidden to read or watch anything that does not support their government and “Dear Leader.”
She works with an organization called Flashdrives for Freedom, which sends USB drives across the border to reach the North Korean people. The flash drives are loaded with Hollywood movies and television shows, but also documentaries on subjects like democracy and communism as well as homemade videos of markets and everyday scenes from South Korea.
She believes the flash drives will help North Koreans understand more about how to attain the freedom they see in the movies.
She encourages everyone to get involved with Flashdrives for Freedom and asks that the people of North Korea not be forgotten.
But she also knows how dangerous it is for her to speak out, even now that she is living in America.
“[Since the video went viral], a lot of people told me how much they really care about my story and how much they care about my people, but the greatest fear for me is being forgotten,” she said. “I hope that Kim Jong-un is not going to kill me and I will be free next year and the following year so I can keeping telling the story and keep going places to advocate freedom in my country. Even if something happens, I don’t think I will have any regrets because you have heard me. You have showed me how much you care.”
To learn more about Yeonmi and her efforts, you can follow her on Facebook.