[Excerpted from The Catalyst] I come from North Korea. I saw people die of starvation, including my own father when I was 12 years old.
I am often reminded of the fact that choosing between eating and not eating is a privilege. In many parts of this world, people live in fear of dying from hunger.
The 1990s famine in North Korea took millions of lives, my father’s being one of them. My older sister was sold to a man in China. I lost my mom to a North Korean prison.
Then, it was just me, all by myself living on the streets. When I could not fall asleep from the bitter cold and hunger pains, I hoped that my sister would find me the next morning and wake me up with my favorite food. That hope kept me alive.
When I approached people in the food courts in the city markets, they would cover their nose and swat me away as though I were a fly. They called me homeless, orphan, and beggar. Some even called me human trash. Those words hurt me because I was also someone else’s precious son and brother. Before I had a chance to decide who I was on my own terms, my identity was defined by others.
During this time, my dream used to be having a day where I could have three meals a day. I often wondered when I could eat; not whether I should eat. My parents and sister weren’t the most educated, but they did not fail to let me know how much they loved me. That simple knowledge of being loved kept me going.
Now, I am a former North Korean refugee living in the U.S., [one of the few] lucky ones.
Millions of refugees still suffer from constant threats to their lives, loss of human dignity, and severe shortages of food. Protecting refugees in these situations is costly. But failing to save them is even more expensive. When international politics leaves them unattended or neglected, we lose part of our humanity and civilization takes a step backward. Read more