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North Korean defector Hyeonseo Lee reunited with the man who saved her family

Posted by: Thu-Huong Ha

TED speaker Hyeonseo Lee (right) meets Dick Stolp (left), the kind stranger who gave her a wad of cash to help get her family out of jail four years ago. Photo: SBS

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 KoreaHyeonseo 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.’”

Read more about Lee and Stolp’s meeting, or watch the SBS special on North Korea in full »

Comments (8)

  • Daniel Allan commented on Feb 8 2014

    Haehyseo your bravery and vision to be after years of suffering under North Korean regime is to appaulded and immensely admired. As are other defectors who escape in the hope of freedom future and in knowage you can talk freely without fearing for life then after 10yrs too go back too North Korea to rescue your family knowing too well the greater risk of getting caught by North Korean gov and risking death in the hope of freeing your family and letting them have the chance too of freedom happiness and have better quality of life than u and your family would of done otherwise. I admire you have told the world how u were badly treated and how your family suffered also. But doing these talks about life and the starvation the inhumane cruelty of North Korean gov and how you witnessed people dying and what lengths people would go too eat. Dispite North Korean gov are always trying to paint a very different picture too the western world and how the try and blind the western world how life really is yet you risk your life talking honestly how bad life in North Korea is and how bad food situation is in North Korea finally I admire your bravery and also you risking your life a second time going back too free your family of the North Korean regime if you did come too visit uk I would be asking uk too give a humanitarian award for being true voice of the people of North Korea whom are cruely suffering under this regime. I must admit when I heard kim jong un was going to be the leader of North Korea I hoped he recognise the cruelty and the neglect he and his grandfather did before him after being too a private European school in Austria if I remember correctly he wld of recognised how his father and grandfather were mistreating his people and when he became leader he would of started too turn the situation around yet he clearly been trained and conditioned by his father to carry on the cruel regime that his father and grandfather created before him. Clearly he only cares about himself and living a greedy over the top lifestyle and eat top of the range food while many thousands die from starvation of some sort of mistreatment. My heart goes out too suffering North Koreans whom go starving daily and fear with their life’s I suspect from this evil leader whom cares for himself and not his people. Finally once again miss lee I admire your bravery and determination to voice your suffering and suffering of others in North Korea. I totally admire determination to open the eyes of what’s been suspected by western world how cruel North Korean regime is to its people and how to u work with Ted too constantly remind other richer country’s of the world what the real North Korea is like and your experiences you went though growing up there. I appauld you miss lee you are amazing brave woman and should commended for your humanitarian work for highlighting real story of what was it like for you fellow North Koreans. I really admire what u are doing for fellow Koreans Dan UK

  • David Yuan commented on Dec 15 2013

    Dick Stolp, good man! Hyeonseo Lee, live well and spread the spirit!

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  • Angelica Sosa commented on May 22 2013

    I read this and I cannot begin to explain the emotion that chokes me up right now. I am amazed by this man who so selflessly helped a stranger and a woman so strong that she never gave up hope! It makes me feel so small in a big world, but seeing that one person can make a difference, I see that we can be so big in a small world!

    p.s. I love you TED! YOU, have helped restore my faith in humanity!!!!

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  • commented on May 20 2013

    Reblogged this on Sizzle The Bacon and commented:
    Sometimes it is hard to believe we live in a world that divides families in half over something those families had nothing to do with.