Grace Jo, a North Korean defector who now lives in Washington, D.C., shares her story:
“North Korea is very cruel, very sad, and very dark,” Grace said, recalling her days there. “It is a world completely without hope.”
Born in 1991 in Hamgyeong Province, Grace lived in the mountains with her mother, father, two older sisters, younger brother and grandmother. She lost more than half of her family before she left North Korea for good.
Her childhood was defined by a famine which killed hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, between 1994 and 1998. “We were always hungry and cold,” Grace explained, “My mother, father, and siblings were always out searching for food. … I went 10 days without any food. We could only drink cold water from the river,” she said. Had it not been for the generosity of a neighbor, Grace would not have survived.
To fight off starvation, Grace’s mother and father made several food runs to China. The first two times were successful, but everything went wrong during a third trip, when they were caught by border police. Her mother, who was pregnant at the time, was tortured in prison, an experience that crippled her permanently. Grace’s father died during his incarceration.
To care for the family, Grace’s oldest sister traveled to China to find food, but she disappeared. After recovering, Grace’s mother left Grace, her older sister Jinhye Jo, her younger brother and her new baby brother in the care of their grandmother and set out to look for her daughter in China.
“We did our best to take care of our new baby brother while our mother was gone, but we were unable to save him. He died after only two months,” Grace explained. Read more