North Korean refugee tells story to DVC students

Daniel Maraccini, Features editor

A North Korean refugee and fellow college student presided over a packed Diablo Valley College Community Room on Feb. 24 to give an intimate look at the world’s most mysterious country.

Oak Sao, who escaped from North Korea as a teenager, spoke of her tragic upbringing and eventual escape from her native country.

Sao was soft-spoken, but clearly passionate about her message. She kept the room in an awed silence for a roughly 20-minute speech on everyday life in North Korea.

“I was always hungry,” she said. “When I was growing up I only had one wish… to eat all the rice I could. Just once.”

Sao twice tried to flee the country by way of the Tumen River, which rests on the border of China. After crossing the first time Sao was caught by Chinese authorities.

She was then sent back to a North Korean prison where she developed Scarlet Fever.

Though Sao was eventually released, she soon found her way back onto the streets where she once again began planning an escape.

“I could not live like that anymore,” she said of the experience. After hiding in China for eight months Sao took a bus to South Korea, where she continues to reside today.

Her dream is to help build a reunified Korea and one day visit the grave of her deceased father.

Professor at the University of Seoul and former South Korean Congresswoman Sun-Young Park also spoke at the presentation.

Park, who leads a North Korean refugee educational program called the Mulmangcho School, described the challenges Sao and other refugees face.

“When they came to us they could not write their names,” she said. “Public education in all of [North Korea] collapsed from about the mid 1990’s. Even if you had the energy to do school you are far better off going to the market or making a living.”

Park encouraged DVC students to raise awareness of the injustice and struggles of North Korean refugees and citizens.

“Tiny, weak, feeble, small,” she called these people, “but they are angels, warriors, messengers of the 21st century.”