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The Road May Be Rough, But Go Smiling
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2016-01-25 17:40:08
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The Road May Be Rough, But Go Smiling


Yu Hwa
Teenage North Korean Defector
Arrived in South Korea in February 2006

The following three accounts are from a conversation with one of the program officers of Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), after the defectors safely arrived in a third country via China in 2005.

I was born in May 1986 in Eunduk of North Ham Kyung Province. My family has five members: mother, father, older brother, younger sibling, and myself. There is something I always say to myself: “The road may be rough, but go smiling.”

Although I do not exactly remember why, my mother and I left the rest of the family when I was little; from the on, we lived by ourselves. When I was five, my mother died from an illness, and I returned to the house where my father and my older brother were living. My stepmother and my half-sibling were also there.  
I started going to school when I was seven-years-old (1992). When I was in second grade of People’s School, I began to pick herbs and roots from the mountains, which would then be sold from a washbasin. There were times when I would steal food, while I was selling herbs in the market, due to extreme hunger.  When I got caught, my mother and father beat me. I even attempted to leave home numerous times.  

Because raising us was not easy, my mother suggested to my father that my older brother and I be sent to an orphanage; my father sent only my brother. I stayed home, gathering herbs from the mountains in order to sell them. I even sold our clothing when I got really hungry and bought noodles with that money, but my parents found out and beat me.  One day, my older brother returned from the orphanage because he became sick.  But he had become very weak, and he died after three days. That memory still pains me because I continue to think that his death is my fault.  If I had not returned home, he would not have died.  After his death, my mother and I sold goods at the market together and made dishes and porridge from herbs. 

One day in June, when I was eleven, my mother gave me matches, telling me to go Jang Pyeong to exchange them with potatoes. I did go to Jang Pyeong, but I could not exchange them with potatoes. While wandering around, I became so hungry that I finally traded the matches with boiled potatoes, which I ate on the spot.  I didn’t to return home, not only because I afraid of being yelled at, but also because I didn’t have deep feelings for my half-sibling. I also hated being beaten by my parents, who didn’t get along themselves. I especially resented being disciplined by my mother, probably because she was a stepmother. Instead of going home, therefore, I decided to live alone.  Because the thought of going back was so hateful, I lived with an older female friend until I was 16.

Because I heard that I could make some money in Najin Sonbong, I went alone to Najin and successfully entered Sonbong after evading the electric fence.  There I started selling things, mostly rice and cabbage, with Chinese people and acquired some money by selling picked-up barbed wire. I also built a house in the mountains out of plastic bags with other kids who were also wandering by themselves. When I became sixteen, I wanted to see my father and apologize to him, which led me to think that I should first go to China to earn some money. In January of 2001, I left Najin to go to China. On January 24th, I took a train to Musan from Najin, and crossed the river on the 26th. I was traveling with people I had worked with, but I was still scared. Although there was a preset date, I crossed the river one day early because I did not want to be sold. When I entered China, I went into the first house that I saw and paid 50 won. When I told them that I had come from North Korea, they were friendly, and my companion, older and female, knew China well because she had been repatriated from China before. We rode a car, and the surrounding looked amazing. Food and clothing that I saw were amazing. We then arrived at a church. Because we didn’t know how to pray in the beginning, we just laughed. From then on till now, we have lived in one house. There were times when I wanted to leave because I felt trapped. We were introduced to other church members, and there was one more person besides us three. To be honest, there was no freedom, and we lived in secret and fear. I could have just gone home, but I thought that living at home would be even more difficult, if not impossible. I was ashamed to return home empty-handed. I did not think that there would be anybody home who would welcome my return.

In the house, I watched a lot of TV and studied the bible. There were times when I just wanted to leave because living in secret without freedom was hard. I was hoping to go to South Korea, first in July of 2004, then in February and April of this year. In the beginning, my worldly wish was to become a singer, but after receiving much of God’s grace, I now want to learn English and Japanese in a theological school and do missionary work. I also want to earn money and go to China or the U.S. and show my gratitude to Aunt who has been looking after me and my parents.  


Aunt is a really good person. She has taken care of us for five years, even though she had no money. Once, after hearing that security guards were coming, we spent an entire day inside a kimchi cave. Because it was winter, we stayed there with a blanket. We prayed that the guards would not search around, and indeed they left without searching. We also prayed when we were escaping this time, and we arrived safely.