Sun Oven's Long Journey Ends In North Korea Orphanage

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When Rotarians see an opportunity for World Community Service (WCS) they won't let any obstacles stand in their way.  So it was that after two false starts, members of the Provisional Rotary Club of Shanghai, China, successfully completed their first WCS effort with the recent delivery of a sun oven to an orphanage in Pyongyang, capital of North Korea (a.k.a. Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK).

The club's initial attempts came to naught largely because it was difficult to find a reliable partner in a non-Rotary country.  Unexpectedly, in July 2001, an opportunity literally walked into the Beijing office of UK businessman Roger Barrett.

Dr. Jong Sang Hun, a DPRK government official, came to Beijing on a mission to locate Rotary in China.  He had heard of the humanitarian projects that Rotarians support worldwide, including in the North Korean region of Rajin where the U.S. Rotary Club of Bremerton supplied computers to a school and fertilizer to local farmers.  The Shanghai provisional club had helped with buying the fertilizer for the project. 

The North Korean wanted to bring a sun oven to Pyongyang Orphanage, home to 180 children.  Barrett, who had previously been a guest speaker at a meeting of the Shanghai club, linked up Dr. Jong with Randal Eastman, chair of the club's international service committee.  The project was an easy sell to eager club members.  

Plans for the effort became truly international with the support of a US$12,120 Helping Grant from The Rotary Foundation, as well as cash contributions from individual Rotarians, the Rotary clubs of Makati, Philippines; Taipei, Taiwan; and Chigasaki Shonan, Japan, and the Temple Solar Committee of District 6450, Illinois, USA, which has specialized in sun oven projects.  In-kind donations included free shipping (from Illinois, USA, to North Korea) from ocean line company P&O Ned Lloyd, as well as medicines and children's clothes from Rotarians, garment retailers, and an anonymous benefactor.   

On 8-15 March, a four-member team comprising Shanghai Rotarians David Turchetti and Eastman and his wife, Olya, and Bruno Bensaid of the Rotary Club of Queenstown, Singapore, traveled to Pyongyang to oversee the installation of the sun oven.  Officially guests of the country's ministry of foreign trade, the visitors were hosted by orphanage director Dr. Jo Huayun and Dr. Jong.  

"What surprised us most - and we had many misapprehensions before traveling to Pyongyang - was the friendliness of all the people we met," said Eastman.  "The overwhelming message we received from our hosts was that the door is now open for Rotarians to conduct more worthy projects in Pyongyang and the DPRK."

Dr. Jong said, "The Rotarians' first visit to Pyongyang was effective.  It showed to the Korean people and government what Rotary is.  After their departure, senior government officials came to see the oven several times.  They appreciate and encourage Rotarian activities."

Source: Rotary News Basket #807, 30 April 2003