I have heard the story of Yeonmi Park many times over the years as I have looked through the difficult relationship between North and South Korea, and through her inclusion on the BBC’s Top 100 Women list. The speech Yeonmi Park will coincide with the release of Park’s book In Order To Live and will see her join the likes of President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and NFL quarterback Andrew Luck in giving the lecture that dates back to 1986.
Yeonmi Park has chosen to tell the story of her own escape from North Korea as a way of making sure her own story and that of those who are still trapped in North Korea does not go unheard. Park’s family decided to escape the oppressive regime of North Korea after her father lost his job in the civil service and was forced into a labor camp after he traded with Chinese nationals to provide food for his family during a drought. With the family on the brink of starvation the decision was made for them to cross into China and make their way to the safety of South Korea on a journey taking almost two years to complete. Since arriving in South Korea Yeonmi Park has worked as a human rights activist and now acts as a spokesperson for North Korean refugees.
Yeonmi Park will be the youngest speaker at the annual event in its history as the speech will be given just one day after her 22nd birthday. many, like myself, are interested to hear about the harrowing journey that initially saw only Yeonmi Park and her mother survive the journey to the South Korean embassy in Mongolia before Yeonmi’s sister made her way to the family five years after their 2009 arrival in South Korea.