By Sohee Khim, NKHR Volunteer and Intern
On Thursday, November 6, the NKHR Rescue Fund team held a hunger banquet to raise awareness about hunger, food insecurity and social inequality in North Korea. The event was hosted at Neungla Bapsang (능라밥상) in Jongno, a restaurant owned by a North Korean defector that serves North Korean cuisine. Neungla Bapsang employs other North Korean defectors and regularly donates a part of its profits to fund scholarships that help other defectors.
Participants were randomly assigned to one of the 3 songbun (social classes) of North Korean society with a false identity—hostile, wavering or core. The dinner they received corresponded to their class. The hostile class only received two potato dumplings each, the wavering a bowl of bibimbap, and the core a bowl of meat soup with rice. Guests were able to discuss their characters’ stories and observe their differences over dinner; people in the hostile class were also given NKHR Food Aid comprised of Choco Pies, modeled after the United Nations food aid that has been distributed in North Korea for the past few decades. Participants were assigned seats at the same table as others who were of different classes as they so that they could experience firsthand how the wide gaps in social status affects daily life in North Korea. Participants were visibly shocked that the social inequality produces such vast inequalities in the type of food people in North Korea can access; however, the shock gave way to camaraderie as unlike in North Korea, many participants of the core and wavering classes readily and willingly shared their meals with those in the hostile class.
After dinner, we invited Kim Eun Jeong (김은정), a young woman who escaped North Korea at the age of 15, to speak to the group. Ms. Kim also took questions from guests, conducted a Q&A session where people were able to learn more about the food shortages in North Korea. It was evident that many people were shocked and moved as she discussed the hardships she had faced and described the mass suffering she had observed during her childhood in North Korea.
During the event, we also held a raffle with a variety of prizes, all of which were generously donated by the NKHR office and businesses in Seoul.
Thanks to the generous donations of the guests, the NKHR Rescue Fund raised over 700,000 Korean won (roughly USD 700) at the Hunger Banquet. We would also like to thank Neungla Bapsang for hosting and accommodating us, as well as Plant Bakery, Café San Damiano, Magpie Brewery and The Beastro for their generous contributions to the raffle.
Thanks to the generous support of the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) Rescue Fund, we are halfway to our 2014 fundraising goal and recently rescued four North Korean refugees!
We would like take a moment to share their stories with you. Safety concerns prevent us from divulging any identifying information about refugees, including photos or their real names.
Sunbok and her two daughters
Sunbok was born and raised in the North Hamgyong Province of North Korea. Her husband was born in Pyongyang, but was purged with his family when he was young. Since then, he worked hard in hopes of one day returning to Pyongyang with Sunbok and their two daughters. But that day never came. In May 2013, Sunbok’s husband was arrested by North Korean police and likely executed. Sunbok was never told what her husband had done wrong.
In North Korea, there is a guilt-by-association system which allows for punishment of the family members of the accused. Fearing for their lives, Sunbok decided that she and her daughters needed to escape North Korea. Because of the nature of her husband’s disappearance, Sunbok felt it was the only way they could survive. She instructed her eldest daughter Eunju to escape first and meet Sunbok at their relatives’ home in China.
Shortly after Eunju left, Sunbok and her 18-year-old daughter, Eunhwa, crossed the heavily guarded border of North Korea and China, the Tumen River. The day before their escape, Sunbok and Eunhwa hid in the mountains waiting for an opportune moment. At 3:00 a.m., when it began raining, Sunbok firmly took Eunhwa’s hand and ran across the shallow river.
Fortunately, Sunbok and Eunhwa safely reached their relatives’ home in China. Eunju, however, was not there. Since leaving her mother and sister in North Korea, Eunju had not been heard from.
Because Sunbok and Eunhwa arrived in China with little money, they had no safe way to reach South Korea on their own. Being female, they were at high risk of being sexually trafficked. Eunju’s disappearance also put them at increased risk of being caught and repatriated by Chinese authorities. But with your generous donations, NKHR was able to bring Sunbok and Eunhwa to South Korea quickly and safely. They continue to remain hopeful that they will find Eunju and that she will soon join them.
Hyang and her young son
Until she was 26 years old, Hyang worked for a mine in the Ryanggang Province of North Korea. Her father had been purged from Pyongyang, but in hopes of one day returning to the capital, he worked hard and attended every event hosted by the government. Despite his efforts, Hyang’s father was sentenced to three years in a prison camp for being deemed disloyal to the country. He passed away during his first year due to hard labor.
After her father’s imprisonment, Hyang’s mother began to suffer from chronic heart and lung disease. Hyang’s income, however, could not cover the costs of her mother’s medical treatment and provide enough food for the family. As a result, she enthusiastically accepted her friend’s offer for work in China. After telling her mother that she would be back soon, she crossed the Tumen River into China, only to find that her friend had sold her to a sex trafficker.
The trafficker sold Hyang to a farmer in rural China, whom she was forced to live with. She was forced to work on his farm and maintain the household. Hyang soon birthed a son. But as the son of a North Korean woman without legal status in China, he was a stateless child and was denied access to education and other government services. Once she realized that there would be no hope for her son if they stayed in the village, she took her 6-year-old son and escaped. Because of the risk that Hyang would be trafficked again, NKHR was contacted for assistance. With your help, NKHR was able to bring Hyang and her son to South Korea safely.
These rescues would not have been possible without your generous support. On behalf of Sunbok, Eunhwa, Hyang, and Hyang’s young son, we sincerely thank you.
But remember, our work is not done yet—there are still countless others who need help. Even after escaping North Korea, desperate mothers like Sunbok and Hyang live each day in fear of being sexually trafficked or caught by Chinese authorities. That is why donations like yours are so important.
Please consider making an additional contribution to help the Rescue Fund reach its goal of raising 15 million South Korean Won (roughly USD 15,000) this year. Visit the Rescue Fund website for more information.
Thank you for your continued support,
Volunteers and Staff at the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights
We are a group of volunteers fundraising for NKHR (Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights) to rescue