Here in the States, it’s easy to take freedom for granted. But Eunsun Kim, a North Korean refugee, wakes up every day thanking God she is, finally, a free woman. When she was just 11 years old, Kim, her mother and sister started a journey to escape totalitarian North Korea. It took them nine years to find safety. Kim’s memoir, “A Thousand Miles To Freedom” (out today) is her powerful and shocking account.
When Kim was a child, her family was affected by the famine taking place in North Korea at the time. After her father died of starvation, her mom decided they should leave home, even though they had to live on the streets. “We slept anywhere we could, under bridges or market display stalls,” Kim tells us. “We usually ate ‘speed cake,’ which is a mixture of water and cornmeal. It only takes two minutes to make and just a little bit makes you feel full.”
Kim says during these dark times, finding their next meal consumed all their thoughts. Other than where their next meal might come from, they didn’t talk much.
Sold into slavery
After making it out of North Korea and to China, a seemingly nice woman offered them shelter. She suggested Kim’s mother marry a Chinese man to have legal residency. Not seeing an alternative, she agreed even though the man was a stranger and hideous looking. They did not know the woman was offered money from the man, essentially selling the women as slaves.
“Even though human trafficking is illegal in China, there are many old, poor, disabled men in small villages and these men want to use their money to buy North Korean women because it is much easier than finding a Chinese woman to marry,” Kim says. “There is a continued demand for North Korea women, and the traffickers supply these women for money.”
Though they now had food and shelter, they were treated badly by Kim’s mother’s new husband. He berated her until she became pregnant with his son. Eventually, the three women left and escaped to South Korea, where they live today.
Once there, Kim focused on school. She wanted to go to college, but was nine years behind. “I met many nice people in South Korea who really did help me study,” she says. “After one year, my grades improved and I started to have self-confidence. I felt like I could have a bigger purpose in my future. I also started to think about North Korea’s problems.”
Kim now attends college in South Korea, is married to another refugee and is expecting her first child. “When I was in North Korea or China, I never dreamed that I could have a life like today. Even though we had to go through so much, I am pleased with my life now.”
Her mother works in a restaurant, which is hard work yet work she is thankful to have. Kim’s sister is also married and living in South Korea. “I am now a free woman, which is the most important thing in one’s life,” Kim says. “This is the most satisfying thing I have.”
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