Ellie Cha was 19 when she left North Korea. She now works on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Cha is currently taking part in a program with the advocacy group HanVoice, which promotes human rights in North Korea. As part of the six-month program, the 23-year-old has spoken at universities in Ontario and Quebec while working as an intern.
As a child, Cha went to school and learned the same sorts of things a Canadian child might: reading, math, science – with a few differences. To start with, her history classes were almost completely wrong. She learned that the Korean War was started by South Korea and the United States, for example. Lacking any other information, she believed the history lessons, she said. But she didn’t believe the more overt propaganda.
Every day before class, students were asked to take 10 minutes to compose a written reflection on some recent news, like the “heroes” who died after they ran into burning buildings to save a portrait of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung.
And after school, she and her family would attend group meetings designed to instill further loyalty to the regime. All those amazing photos of parades on holidays or celebrations in honor of the leaders are the result of months or even years of forced practice, she said.
Growing up, Cha was aware of limitations placed on her family’s success. North Korea’s government has a social system that ranks people based on their perceived loyalty to the regime and doles out economic and social privilege accordingly. The rank can go back several generations and can be affected by the actions of family members. Read more