2010 International Women of Courage Award Winner
Dr. Lee Ae-ran's experience with tyranny began at age 11, when she and her family were designated "bad elements" by the North Korean government and sent to a labor camp following her Christian grandparents' defection to South Korea. Dr. Lee spent eight years as prisoner, enduring abuse, horrific living conditions, and starvation as punishment for her grandparents' "crime." Upon her release, she graduated from college and worked at a government science and technology committee. In 1997, after a family relative in the United States published a memoir implicating her father in anti-regime activities, Dr. Lee fled to South Korea rather than be imprisoned again. She was able to take her 4-month old infant son with her, but was forced to leave her husband and other family members behind.
Dr. Lee is the first North Korean defector to run for the Republic of Korea’s National Assembly, and the first female defector to earn a doctoral degree. To help others in the refugee community reach the levels of achievement that she’s earned, she’s spearheaded a variety of initiatives. In 2005, she founded the Global Leadership Scholarship Program, which has provided more than a thousand North Korean students with scholarships to study English – a skill critical to success in South Korean colleges and universities. In January 2009, she founded the Hana Defector Women's Organization, an NGO with more than 200 members that provides North Korean women in the Republic of Korea with job training, child care, educational support, and human rights training. This year, Dr. Lee also opened the first North Korea Traditional Culinary and Culture Institute to provide North Korean women with practical entrepreneurial and culinary arts skills.