On Monday, May 21, Eli, Mikensi and I hopped on a train to meet up with our first North Korean source. After working for four months to set up interviews with North Korean defectors, we were finally on our way.
We had charged cameras and extra pens in our bags, too much coffee in our systems and more than a few butterflies in our stomachs. While trying to find our meeting place, Mikensi Romersa and her camera were splattered with cement as we passed a small construction site. Despite the inauspicious beginning, our interview turned out better than we could have imagined.
After arriving at Durihana, a Christian organization that rescues and supports North Korean defectors, we interviewed 38-year-old Hana Park. She left North Korea at the height of the nationwide famine in the late 1990s. She and her family had been farmers, but her parents died, food became scarce and she began living in a train station with other beggars, selling candy when she could and stealing when she had to.
Today, Park is a teacher at Durihana. The organization includes a church, dormitories for struggling refugees and children, and an international school for about 50 students. All of the kids either came from North Korea or have parents who did. Many were born in China.
After completing our interview with Park, our translator, who also works at Durihana, led us on a tour of the school and introduced us to several students. We had dinner with Ji Won, a 14-year-old whose mother fled North Korea, and she told us about life at Durihana. We stuck around for an intense prayer service in support of refugees and Korean reunification and were invited to have some late night fried chicken with the group afterwards.
Everyone we met was curious, open and incredibly friendly. We don’t know if we’ll get so lucky again, but we came home energized for the rest of our reporting here in Seoul.
Blog by Sam Weber / Photo by Eli Imadali