Hannah Song created an underground network that is helping North Koreans to escape life in the repressive and isolated nation. Song is the president and CEO of Liberty in North Korea, a nonprofit that works to rescue refugees who are fleeing the Hermit Kingdom. To date, her organization has rescued 700 refugees in what is really a modern-day underground railroad. She left her job as a media supervisor for a global advertising agency to embark on the work she’s doing now.
In a one-on-one interview with Women in the World founder and CEO Tina Brown, Song shared stories of survival and hope coming out of the reclusive rogue nation. Song’s work and the stories she shared are magnified by the recent provocations by Kim Jong Un. Last week, Kim’s regime tested another intercontinental ballistic missile, known as the Hwasong-15, a newly developed weapon that the North Korean military said could carry nuclear bombs to any location in the continental U.S.
“I often times call myself an accidental activist,” Song said after Brown asked her about why she was drawn to her work. “I never had an interest to become an activist or to do this work. I was very happy working in corporate America — but I read a book [The Aquariums of Pyongyang] probably by accident, about a young man … a North Korean boy at the age of 9. And his grandfather had been accused of betraying the government. The result,” Song said, “was a multi-generational punishment. His grandmother, his parents and him — at the age of 9 — were put into North Korea’s most brutal political prison camps.” Song said he spent 10 years in that camp, and Song said the grim story left her shocked. She was bewildered that a place like that could exist in today’s world and flummoxed that more people weren’t talking about it.
Song is a North Korean-American woman, and she went on to discuss her grandmother, who was born in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. She left Korea just before the peninsula had been divided, not realizing she would never be able to return. Song said her grandmother had “this whole other life” that she had never known about and only learned of when grandmother’s health was deteriorating and she began to open up about it.
Watch the full interview above.