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Working as a human rights activist in a country that is dominated by a powerful dictator isn’t just difficult. It can be dangerous to your health. Strong, oppressive governments tend to crack down hard on critics, especially internal ones who are seen as traitors to the country. As a result, most human rights activists end up either dead or in prison. The lucky are able to escape that fate by getting out of the country one step ahead of an arrest and that was certainly the case for North Korea’s Yeonmi Park.
Park grew up in North Korea as a member of an influential family and was treated well by the government. All of that changed when her father was arrested for selling restricted metals to China. While the sales were apparently encouraged by his superiors, he ran afoul of government officials looking for a scapegoat. So he was sent off to a forced labor camp while Yeonmi and her mother were forced to try and escape North Korea before they suffered the same fate.
But simply getting across the border into China was only the beginning of the problems faced by Yeonmi and her mother. Her mother was raped and the two were kidnapped and sold to human traffickers. She was sold to a man who promised that if she became his mistress, he would also protect her mother and father. The man paid to gain release for her father and he was able to spend a brief amount of time with her before his death.
Yeonmi was now only 15, even though she had already lived a life’s worth of bad experiences. Following the death of her father, she and her mother escaped again, this time walking across the vast Gobi Desert to freedom.
Now 21-years-old, Yeonmi Park is the president and CEO of LiNK (Liberty in North Korea), which works to help others safely escape the oppressive North Korean government. She argues that while the government is brutal, the biggest dangers often come from the smugglers and human traffickers who prey on the escapees.
At the recent Women in the World Summit, Park said that women face a particular danger trying to escape North Korea. They are often preyed upon in the same way she was, and she told the audience that is not uncommon for young women to be sold off for several hundred dollars. She explained that many of the women will go along with the situation, due to fear and in hopes of eventually making their way to a safer place.
There are touching moments that are sometimes captured on camera. A recent picture of two little girls who are battling cancer is one of those images. It is a heartbreaking image, but it also shows the strength that these two girls have to face each day with a disease that can be deadly. The picture of the two girls hugging while looking out a window was taken by one of the mothers. One of the girls has had cancer since she was two. When they met, they instantly hit it off as friends. They give each other support, something that adults don’t seem to know how to do in this kind of situation. Each person needs a friend to help get through the darkest days, and these girls have each other. The youngest has recently finished her chemotherapy, but the other still has more treatments to get through. Christian Broda knows that sharing a bond with someone who knows the pain you are dealing with can mean the difference between fighting and giving up, and these two girls likely won’t be giving up anytime soon.