Hyeonseo Lee fled North Korea three years ago, making the treacherous journey through China to South East Asia. Her family crossed into Laos, but Hyeonseo’s mother and brother were detained at the border and put in prison.
Desperate, in tears and with no money she was spotted in a café by Australian backpacker Dick Stolp, who gave her £645 ($981) to pay prison officials to get her family released.
They went their separate ways, but Hyeonseo has always wanted to thank Mr. Stolp in person.
An Australian TV program looking at North Korean issues recently brought the pair back together in an emotional surprise reunion. The associate producer of SBS Television’s Insight program, Luan McKenna, explained, “It was worth it to see her face when she met Dick in the SBS foyer. … After all, not only did his money get Hyeonseo, her mother and her brother to safety – it was also an act of kindness that restored her faith in humanity.”
Hyeonseo now lives in Seoul where she helps other North Korean refugees, and gives lectures around the world about the difficulties facing the friends and family she left behind.
Stolp says he is happy to see her making a difference. “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’,” he said. “People have been touched (by the story) and hopefully they will go and do something.”