A total stranger helped Hyeonseo Lee pay her mother and brother’s way out of jail as they fled from North Korea. Now, four years later, Lee has been reunited with that stranger, getting the chance to thank him in person.
Hyeonseo Lee: My escape from North KoreaIn Lee’s TED2013 talk, “My escape from North Korea,” she describes defecting from North Korea in the late ’90s and how, after nearly ten years of living in hiding, she returned to help her family make their own escape. When her mother and brother were captured in Vientiane, Laos, and jailed for illegal border crossing, Lee describes how, out of money and desperate for a solution, she was approached by a foreigner. After hearing Lee’s story, this stranger withdrew a large sum of cash — £645 to be exact — from an ATM. With the money to use as a bribe, Lee’s family was able to escape.
When Lee asked the stranger why he was helping her, he replied, “I’m not helping you. I’m helping the North Korean people.” As Lee says in an emotional moment in her talk, “The kind stranger symbolized new hope for me and the North Korean people when we needed it most.”
Earlier this month Lee was invited to be a guest on the Australian broadcast show Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), where she had an unexpected visitor: Dick Stolp, the Australian backpacker who had helped her in Laos. Lee didn’t have any of his contact information – but Stolp had seen her TED Talk and SBS, catching wind of the story, orchestrated the surprise reunion.
“I was really happy … I can’t explain with words, but it was really amazing,” Hyeonseo told Sky News after the reunion. “He says, ‘I’m not a hero,’ but I say he is a modern hero.”
Stolp, for his part, was excited to see the girl he had helped years ago. “You help a small hand and it reaches to other hands and you think, ‘That’s great, that’s good stuff,’” he said. “I’m meeting someone who is now doing good things, and inside I can’t help but feel ‘Hey! I helped this lady to go out and change her life.’”