Lee Ae Ran, a professor in the Department of Food and Nutrition at Kyungin Women’s College and the first ever North Korean refugee woman to receive a Ph.D., has been chosen as one of the “Secretary of State’s 2010 International Women of Courage,” by the U.S. Department of State.
The news was revealed by United States Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens during her congratulatory remarks at an international donor conference in Seoul yesterday.
The Department of State gives the award to those women who have contributed the most to improving women’s rights around the world in commemoration of International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8th.
U.S. Embassies in each country nominate a candidate, and then the Department of State chooses the winners. Finally, the Secretary of State hosts an awards ceremony for the recipients in Washington D.C.
The list of winners of the 2009 award are women such as Suaad Allami, an Iraqi lawyer who runs an organization helping women in Sadr City, one of the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods of Baghdad, and Norma Cruz, who is working to stop the violent mistreatment and murder of women in Guatemala.
Making her remarks, Ambassador Stephens had high praise for her “good friend, and respected colleague” Dr. Lee, saying, “She has done so much… to empower North Korean women refugees and to advance women’s’ issues in South Korea. I know Secretary Clinton is looking forward to presenting Dr. Lee’s award to her personally next month in Washington, D.C.
During a subsequent phone conversation with The Daily NK, Doctor Lee was modest. “I was only doing what I was naturally supposed to do for North Korean refugees in difficult situations,” she said, “I’m flattered to receive such award, although I have done nothing.”
The range of Doctor Lee’s work for North Korean refugees is wide. She serves as an assistant administrator on the “GLS Scholarship Committee,” established in 2006 to give financial assistance to North Korean students in South Korea. The group supports those students without accommodation or who cannot register for school, offering them cost-of-living scholarships of around $250 every month.
She also works with “North Korean Youth Christian Meeting,” a group established in 2007 to aid North Korean refugees in difficult situations and encourage Christian fellowship, where Dr. Lee teaches bible classes.
Finally, she is involved with efforts to connect refugees with people who can offer them financial stability by acting as guarantors on bank loans, so that they can have a chance to stand on their own two feet in South Korea.
Dr. Lee was recently interviewed for an article which appeared on The Daily NK on Wednesday, in which she was highly critical of the so-called “Chosun Food Encyclopedia,” a list of 21 “traditional” North Korean foods introduced by North Korean propaganda website “Uriminzokkiri (being amongst our nation).”