Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic School ninth through eleventh graders had a unique opportunity today to hear from two individuals who successfully escaped from North Korea with their families. Sophomore Yeongjin Park, an international exchange student from South Korea, provided translation for our guests.
Cheong-ryong Lee and Myung-hyuk Lee grew up in Hoeryong City and Musan City, respectively. Beginning in elementary school, they were brainwashed with political propaganda supporting their supreme leader at the time, Kim Jong-il. Even their art projects were themed to promote military violence. Since North Korea has no internet, their Kim regime provided textbooks are all they know.
Due to unmet basic needs, North Koreans often turn to the Jang Ma Dang, or black market, to obtain necessities. The Jang Ma Dang also has non-essentials like foreign TV shows and movies. As North Koreans watch these shows and movies, they, like Cheong-ryong and Myung-hyuk’s families, begin to realize their oppression and long for the freedoms they see on portrayed.
Even though North and South Korea border each other, there is a heavy military presence and those who approach it are captured or killed, so defectors are forced to go on a multi-country journey to obtain freedom. After crossing the Tumen River into China, travelers must make it through China uncaptured, before trekking the Laotian rainforests, and arriving in Thailand. At the South Korean embassy in Bangkok, they must try and get arrested to then be imprisoned for months in a small cell while their identities are confirmed.
Cheong-ryong and Myung-hyuk wanted to share their stories because they know they are minorities in society. By sharing their first-hand experiences, they hope to give a face to all those affected by the Kim regime and encourage the continuation of international meetings between North Korea and the United States and other world leaders.
“I couldn’t believe it when they told us we were doing this. It was really eye-opening, we take so much for granted and we don’t realize it,” said Our Lady of the Lakes junior Macy Senerius after the presentation.
Our Lady of Lakes students walk the halls every day with international students hailing from South Korea and China, but meeting North Koreans is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Reading about the Kim regime in textbooks is vastly different from hearing it straight from the mouth of its former citizens. This resonated with both students and staff, and sophomore Chris Cempura remarked out loud what many were thinking, “We are so blessed.”
Read coverage on this event from The Oakland Press here.