Renovated May Day Stadium

DPRK top leader watches football match at renovated May Day Stadium

PYONGYANG, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- Top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)Kim Jong Un watched a women's football match on Tuesday here at the newly renovated May Day Stadium, the official KCNA news agency reported Wednesday.

The match was between women's national football team and the Wolmido team, with the former beating the latter 9:0.

Kim was satisfied with the fact that the stadium was remodeled as "an icon of the sports facilities in the country" and a world-class stadium on the occasion of the founding anniversary of the Korean Workers' Party, which marked its 69th anniversary on Oct. 10.

Kim said the DPRK people showed great interest in the 17th Asian Games and the country is now witnessing a craze for sports and physical training. He then gave instructions for turning the stadium into a sports center to better improve the people's cultural life.

A ceremony was held on Tuesday to celebrate the completion of the remodeling of the stadium, which is now able to accommodate about 150,000 people, according to KCNA.

Choe Ryong Hae, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, addressed the ceremony. He called for building more facilities and organizing more mass sports activities across the country to benefit the people.

A number of senior officials including Choe Ryong Hae and Hwang Pyong So, director general of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army, also watched Tuesday's football match.

Editor: Fu Peng   2014-10-29 14:10:13   

Fertilizer and Food Aid Needed for 2015

Humanitarian Food Aid Needed

It is always distressing to receive messages like this because I have seen first hand the grim reality of what people have to put on their tables at home in North Korea, and it stands in such stark contrast with the situation in neighbouring China or Russia.

Our friend has written this week:

As you know, I visited to Taiwan in 2011, at that time I was told from a friend of mine that a lady whose name was just Hope attached to RC Taipei wanted to help us donate food (white rice) amounting to 500MT, even if the amount was a bit small volume as compared with urgently required amount. However, I could not hold on contact with her to the last because that friend did not introduce her to me.

Also my ex-boss, Resident Representative of UNDP Pyongyang Office came from Belgium strongly mentioned to me several times that it was important for DPRK to negotiate with Brunei in terms of economic relation and humanitarian aid. Just then, the boss planned with me to go to Brunei for arranging a round table meeting with purpose of negotiating provision of food and fertilizer to our country under humanitarian aid, but failed to attain our aim, as he was moved to other Office by his promotion.

Currently, the food situation of our country has taken an unfavourable turn, thus leading not to have supplied the food to people as it stands. The reason is why we have been affected with severe natural disasters for a long time in spite of the fertilizer shortage, consequently declined in agricultural production. Furthermore, we are under great apprehensions about absolute deficiency of the fertilizer necessary for grain production of next year.

For such reason, we are very keen on connection with charitable foundations and agencies in Taiwan and Brunei through good offices of Rotarians with a view to promotion of economic relation and cooperation for food and fertilizer under humanitarian aid.
When it comes to amount of the food and fertilizer we want, it will depend on their decisions based on humanitarian standpoint.

Your kind guidance would be appreciated.  

So to help him we are searching now for Rotarian - and non-Rotarian sources of fertilizer or food aid that could help the DPR Koreans get through this Winter and into next Spring.

Koryolink signs up 2.4 million 3G users by 1H14

North Korean mobile operator CHEO Technology (Koryolink) signed up 2.4 million 3G users by 30 June 2014, North Korea Tech reports, citing figures released by the operator’s parent company Orascom Telecom Media and Technology (OTMT). Koryolink, which is the country’s sole 3G cellular network operator, launched in December 2008 and claimed one million customers by February 2012; the cellco reached the two million subscriber milestone on 29 May 2013.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Koryolink is a 75/25 joint venture between OTMT of Egypt and state-owned Korea Post & Telecoms Corporation (KPTC). Coverage of Koryolink’s 3G network has been gradually expanded from solely the capital at launch, to a further 15 main cities (including Wonsan, Hamhung, Pyongsong, Anju, Kaechon, Nampo, Sariwon and Haeju), 100 smaller towns and cities, and 22 highways and railways by November 2012 (latest available data at September 2014), equivalent to around 90% of the population, but just 14% of the territory.

Rotarian uses deep ties to help the North’s needy

‘North Koreans are like a mirror; if you smile at them, they smile back’

March 7th, 2014
Kamila Kingstone

Randal Eastman, a Canadian Rotarian living in Shanghai, is no stranger to working with the North Korean government.

Eastman’s work with the DPRK began in 2001, when he received a phone call from a North Korean official interested in acquiring a solar oven for a Pyongyang orphanage. A number of Rotary Clubs had for some time been involved in projects to send solar ovens to places with little electricity, and after two years of negotiations, the Shanghai Club was able to put together the funds to send a small team of Rotarians to install the first oven in Pyongyang.

“Everything was very formal at first,” Eastman told NK News. “During the initial meeting at the orphanage, everyone was friendly but a bit distant. The younger children especially seemed afraid of us. After a couple of days, though, everyone was smiling and laughing.”

Finding the orphanage largely bare of essential supplies, the group also brought medicines, toys, clothing, and purchased in the country refrigerators and televisions. After installing the oven, the Rotarians showed the orphanage residents how to use it to cook eggs, rice, and bread, which they then ate together.

A year after his initial visit, in April 2004, the news broke of a chemical explosion in the North Korean town of Ryongchon. Killing more than 150 people, injuring around 1,300, and damaging around 8,000 buildings, the explosion left a great many people permanently disabled.

After three months of hasty fundraising, Eastman visited Pyongyang to deliver 120 wheelchairs to people injured in the blast. (The DPRK-made film of the official welcoming ceremony is available to watch online.) As part of his trip, Eastman visited the Manyongdae Pen Factory, which had been set up after the Korean War to provide work for disabled soldiers, and now provides a livelihood for people injured in work-related accidents. He was also shown the Dongrim County Home for the Disabled, where he found the elderly residents making do with a handful of heavy chain-driven tricycle wheelchairs, and promised a further 36 wheelchairs for their use.

Eastman is full of stories, one of the most poignant of which concerns two North Korean boys, aged 12 and 14, whom he arranged to receive heart surgery in Shanghai in 2005.

“They were here for six weeks, as we had to fatten them up before their operations,” he said. “When they were well enough to return home, we had a farewell dinner with the hospital staff and Rotarians. The older boy brought a guitar and played songs with some young South Korean members of our Interact club. We witnessed a really powerful emotive moment when North and South Koreans were singing together.”

Having worked with the DPRK for 13 years, Eastman has built up familiarity with the Korean Committee for the Promotion of International Trade and he credits this for the extent of his work.
“North Koreans are like a mirror; if you smile at them, they smile back,” he said. “If you have an angry face at them, they have an angry face back.

“There aren’t many agencies that have their respect on the ground. Our Korean counterparts have the whole weight of the system to push against in order to get something done. It’s all about building up good relations. In the long-term it’s only meaningful as long as I maintain an open communication channel.”

Eastman emphasises that Rotary is not a charity, but a worldwide network of clubs composed of businesspeople. Three years ago, Eastman worked alongside the Shanghai branch of the Rotaract Club (a branch of the Rotarians for 18-30 year-olds) with clubs in France and Hungary to refurbish an operating theater in a North Korean children’s hospital. He also assisted the disaster-relief charity, Shelterbox, in sending tents and construction materials to North Korea in January 2013 and January 2014 after two years’ devastating floods and typhoons.

“People really came together to deal with the immediate disaster, the cleanup, and to take care of those who lost their homes. It is a pity more people could not be exposed to this side of DPRK life,” he said.

Having joined forces with Koryo Tours and (the North) Korea Education Fund, Eastman is currently raising funds for an orphanage in Munchon, Kangwon Province. The plan is to install solar water-heaters so that the children and staff can bathe in hot water, and to buy soap made by Korean disabled workers.

While some criticize NGOs sending aid to North Korea, arguing that it allows the regime to survive, Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow on North East Asia at the conservative U.S. think tank the Heritage Foundation, told NK News he commended the work done by organizations like the Shanghai Rotarians.

“There is donor fatigue constraining donations to North Korea, when the DPRK government has not implemented changes to its economic system which would reduce the level of assistance it would require in the future.” Klinger said. “Charitable NGOs do admirable work providing assistance to the people of North Korea suffering horrendous conditions due to the policies of their own government.”

Eastman’s most recent project, which began in summer 2013, focuses on relieving hunger and involves working with Canadian Rotarians and the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group. The group works in 80 countries – including the DPRK – to identify food plants native to the target country that have high nutritional value, and using agricultural techniques to improve their production.

“People are starving, and when we talk to our counterparts, we realize how dire the situation is,” Eastman said. “The best way to relieve malnutrition is to work locally.”

In the future Eastman said, “the two areas I want to focus on at the moment are energy poverty and malnutrition. But my work in North Korea is really a hobby; I’m primarily a businessman. I’m continually invited to visit Pyongyang, but I just don’t have enough time.”

More can be learned about Eastman’s projects by emailing him at 

Interview: Massimo Urbani, former aid coordinator in N. Korea

The last part of NK News miniseries dedicated to Humanitarian issues in North Korea is an interview with former Italian Diplomat and aid coordinator in North Korea, Dr. Massimo Urbani, who has worked in North Korea from 1997 to 2007, going back frequently after his duties in the country were over.

Full interview transcript follows:

NK News: How did you start your work in the DPRK and what do you recall of your first time in North Korea?

Massimo Urbani: I am a surgeon by training and a diplomat by accident. Back in the early 1990s I was working with a religious NGO in a hospital in Cameroon. I received a call from Brussels, as they were looking for people to cover coordination roles in the DPRK (during the famine, when North Korea requested aid from the international community). They asked whether I would be available to start working immediately, as the situation required urgent care, and I agreed. Three days later I was in Pyongyang.

I have to say that back then I was not very familiar at all – as I guess many other international professionals weren’t as well – with the culture and the history of North Korea. I only knew about Kim Il Sung and Pak Doo Ik. Most people mention Orwell whenever discussing the DPRK, but I truly felt it was very similar to the situation we had in Italy during the 1950s. Now, this was back in early 1997, so long before Italy opened any official relations with the DPRK in 2001 (the first country in the EU aside from Sweden to do so). Foreigners were not at all a common sight back then: When we visited the zoo, I was looking at the animals, but our North Korean guides were constantly looking at my family. I was there with the EU Commission, then with UN agencies and, after 2001, with the Italian government.

After a few years of service in the country, I was given diplomatic status and became Consular Attaché, so I was the first official to issue visas for North Korean citizens going to Italy. However, at some point, someone in the Italian government must have changed plans for the DPRK, and my career there ended quite abruptly in March 2007 – and to this day I still do not know the exact reason why they decided to pull the plug. Since then, I have been going back on many occasions, given my extensive network of contacts in the country. I have now opened an office for my own association (C’E’ Italia), devoted to cultural and humanitarian cooperation between Italy and the DPRK.

“It’s the whole aid system that doesn’t work, and North Korea is a primary example of this.”

NK News: Why did the cooperation between Italy and North Korea change all of a sudden?

Urbani: Well, I can say things started to change in the mid-2000s. For some reason, Italy pulled back and some other countries made steps forward. I think it’s a shame, really. I have since then worked in other difficult zones, and I have just returned from a mission in Libya where the situation is much worse than North Korea. I can tell you the way most humanitarian missions and diplomatic relations are managed is...questionable to say the least. It’s the whole aid system that doesn’t work, and North Korea is a primary example of this.

NK News: Can you give us some more details? What do you mean by that?

Urbani: It’s simple. I have spent ten years, not a few weeks or North Korea, working in close contact with the people, the local authorities (and) various foreign NGOs, so I believe I am qualified to tell you a couple of things. There is a general misunderstanding, sometimes a gross ignorance of what North Korea is and what kind of help (or assistance) the country and the people may need. So, first of all, I think we have to clarify the notion of “victims” in North Korea, which is this: everyone, every single North Korean is a victim, including those we assume to be ‘the elites’.

“We have to clarify the notion of “victims” in North Korea, which is this: everyone, every single North Korean is a victim, even the so called elites.”

Everyone there is one of the “weak” and we should help them and treat them differently. All of them, even the members of so called “elites,” or the privileged citizens of Pyongyang live in empty buildings, with no heating, no hot water, no glass on their windows most of the times, with a constant shortage of electric power, very little transportation; in other words, without any of the basic commodities we take for granted. The West knows very little about what really goes on there, and this is why all we read is obnoxious reports about their leaders having sex with traffic girls and what not.

Whenever I tried to deny such rumours, I was met with disbelief, and people told me that years of life in the DPRK had made me as “brainwashed” as the average North Korean is supposed to be. People who had never even set foot there insisted that North Koreans were keeping all our aid, medications, food, etc., in some “secret facilities” underground, purposely starving the general population. Let me tell you, these are all insane rumours, this is bogus, this is the real propaganda. None of this is true. Not even close to resembling the truth. There are journalists (my experience is with Italians, but I can see them going to North Korea from everywhere, really), and they go there with a specific agenda, that has been set months before their trip. They go there knowing exactly what they will write upon their return home, what they will “report” to the outside world. In many cases, there is no political will, as far as I can see, to have normal relations with the DPRK.

NK News: Could you be more specific?

Urbani: Well, take the case of Italy; we had a great start, The former ambassador, H. E. Attilio Massimo Iannucci, was there first. Italy made an innovative move back then and signed two different Memoranda of Understanding between us and them. However, since then, we have changed things, moving onto a situation where the DPRK keeps an embassy in Rome, while we have given all diplomatic power for the North to our embassy in Seoul.

To be more precise, while the DPRK has appointed their ambassador to Italy, responsible for all the countries in the Mediterranean area (Spain, Portugal, etc.), we basically deal with Pyongyang through Seoul (and you can imagine what effect this has on North Korean authorities). There is no reciprocity. If this is not crazy then I do not know what is. We have a country that will certainly be reunified in five to 10 years, and yet we’re neglecting even the basic diplomatic protocol.

NK News: You sound quite confident on the reunification issue. Could you elaborate?

Urbani: Absolutely. See, reunification is what North Korea has always wanted, although –and this may come as a surprise to you – when I first got there, the whole topic was taboo in daily conversation. It was forbidden for us and for North Koreans to talk about reunification. Today things are different.

“In the specific case of North Korea, the issue is that no one cares about them [...] I think the West is generally indifferent to the life and struggle of the average North Korean.”

NK News: Back to the issue of diplomatic relations with North Korea: what is missing in our relations with the DPRK?

Urbani: Well, I think the problem lies in how diplomacy itself is organized. There is an official diplomacy, and then a parallel diplomacy and then a secret diplomacy, and finally, even a criminal diplomacy. Four levels, four layers where different actors play according to their interests. I don’t believe, for instance, that the main problem in places like Africa or North Korea is really the shortage of food, which is what is normally “advertised” in Western media, to get people to donate money or to justify the work of organization such as FAO. I think it is rather the issue of the lack of water, and mostly an issue of delays, and lack of organization.

Anyhow, in the specific case of North Korea, the issue is that no one cares about them. You read about their government versus our government, in the media, but if you want my two cents on it, I think the West is generally indifferent to the life and struggle of the average North Korean. I believe we need to work to help North Korea join the international community as an active member, and then let the country reunify, on Korean terms with zero interference from any other country.

NK News: This brings you back to the thing you mentioned before, that in your view, there is no difference between those living in the countryside and the residents of Pyongyang: They’re all living a very harsh life, you said.

Urbani: Absolutely. I will add that, paradoxically, the ones who live in the countryside are slightly better off: they are not as pressured to conform, or not as rigidly controlled as those in Pyongyang are. Residents of Pyongyang live in constant fear of being sent out of the capital, due to the lack of decent medical facilities, or good schools in outer provinces, but in terms of general life, they have it worse.
All those skyscrapers you see in Pyongyang are empty, have no glass on their windows, no heating, no elevators, nothing. Just empty shells. On the contrary, in the countryside people are now “unofficially allowed” to keep part of what they produce for themselves, they can keep livestock, they can go out on the hills and farm some extra piece of land. In the city you are fully dependent on what the government provides – if and when they provide it.

“North Korea needs senior, well-paid specialists, it is a difficult country to work in, and a 60-year-old local official is unlikely to ever listen to the advice of a young western NGO worker.”

NK News: So why do we hear of life conditions improving in the cities, and life conditions getting harder and harder in the countryside?

Urbani: Well, my idea is that things are presented to you in a certain way, by the media, because they need you to see North Korea in a certain way and quite frankly, what I can read about North Korea (about the people, the real country, the living conditions, the state of malnutrition... the tangible things – not the speculations on dynastic succession) is generally written by self-proclaimed “reporters” who have no idea of where North Korea is on the map and in the history of Asia.

They simply report rumours. Their “research” is mostly based on word of mouth and gossip. You don’t have any journalist, ever, at any point, visiting the places and homes I have visited: factories for artificial limbs, hospitals, homes for the elderly, schools for the blind, orphanages, regular countryside homes, you name it. None of them has ever spoken to a North Korean farmer. They really don’t know anything.

And to make things worse, most of the foreign personnel currently at work in the country are perhaps still too young and do not have enough experience. They often live in closed compounds within the capital and have little interaction with the rest of the country. And it is also a matter of them being too young and frankly underpaid.

North Korea needs senior, well-paid specialists, it is a difficult country to work in, and a 60-year-old local official is unlikely to ever listen to the advice – or worse: “the orders” – of a young NGO worker in his late 20s, who is not a doctor, not an agronomist, not a farmer, and maybe has a degree in international development or human resources management from some good Western college, which is a good thing, but it doesn’t help the North Koreans. They need real help, from people who can save the life of their children, build better factories, perform surgery, cure their parents or teach them how to grow new crops. The rest is just chatter.

NK News: Sounds like a harsh statement.

Urbani: Maybe, but this is what I have witnessed in more than 30 years as a doctor and a humanitarian aid professional, and, in specific, in my 15 years at work with North Koreans, 10 of which I spent in the country. North Korea is not Africa. To give you an example, UN agencies did some courses on breastfeeding, in the DPRK, a country where every single woman knows already what this is. The country has a very good level of education. It is not Somalia or Eritrea and we should not treat it as if it were. International organizations use the same aid protocols over and over again, everywhere they go.

“They need real help, from people who can save the life of their children, build better factories, perform surgery, cure their parents or teach them how to grow new crops. The rest is just chatter.”
These protocols are obsolete and they are clearly not suited to the North Korean situation, yet that’s all the DPRK gets from us. I have fought for years to introduce books (and I mean manuals, technical or medical publications) from the South into the North, because that is the best thing we could do for them. It’s ready and costs almost nothing. And yet I see international organizations spending money on new courses, seminars, trying to teach North Koreans what they already know.

North Korea needs less funding and more good ideas. When working there, I have been on some missions where we delivered rice to areas where the major crop was rice. It’s nonsense. They need better farming tools, they need to introduce new crops, to get to know more vegetables, perhaps change their diet. We keep on delivering basic staples as if were an African country. One more example: North Koreans need better water and sanitation protocols. They need simple yet effective things like soap factories, because one of the major problems they have is the spreading of bacteria from hand-to-mouth diseases. Soap and books: simple things to make their life better.

“When you see some footage of hospitals with liquor bottles used as IV’s, well, that’s a signal from North Korea that they really need help in the medical sector.”

NK News: So the health care situation is a much worse problem than the food issue in your view?

Urbani: Absolutely. It’s staggering, really. The level of their health care, and again, this is my experience as a surgeon in war zones, is stuck in the late 1800s. They still rely quite a lot on herbal treatments, and before I got there with others in the mid-1990s and introduced some of the most basic medications we have in the West, they had not even heard of them. When you see some footage of hospitals with liquor bottles used as IV’s, well, that’s a signal from North Korea that they really need help in the medical sector.

They actually show different things to different organizations, according to what the local hospital or orphanage or farm needs. I recall once, I was wearing a tie with the Red Cross logo on it, during a visit to a hospital, the local official started to deliver a speech related to what their needs in the area were, thanking the Red Cross for their efforts, and so forth. He was soon interrupted by a member of our staff, who pointed out that I was actually from the Italian Cooperation Office, and the local official immediately started with a whole new speech, this time mentioning a new set of issues and thanking the Italian government.

NK News: So the information we get from them is manipulated.

Urbani: It couldn’t be otherwise. This is the trade they had to learn, in order to get more aid, year after year, not because they are evil or anything, but because North Korea has been classified and treated as country that can only function in a regime of aid dependency, since the outbreak of the famine. What is needed, on the other hand, is a gradual yet irreversible integration of North Korea within the international forum; we cannot afford to leave it at the margins forever.

And we need to learn how to argue with them, constructively: I don’t recall a day, in my ten years there, that went on without some sort of discussion or argument. The tone was always polite of course, but I refused to simply deliver aid and leave them alone. I would tell them what they could and should do in order to improve things.

“They do try and manipulate the flow of aid, simply because very few people have sat down with them and discussed ways to do things better.”

They try the same tricks, over and over again. They would tell me, “We can’t visit that facility, because it has been raining, the bridge came down, too much snow,” or whatever else, then I would reply, “Fair enough: We’ll have to cancel all shipments and future plans then, and go back home.” Believe it or not, all of a suddenly that particular bridge was up again...

What I mean by this is that they do try and manipulate the flow of aid, simply because very few people have sat down with them and discussed ways to do things better. I think North Korean authorities have been used to some foreign workers who limited themselves to delivering food or medication and then asking for details on how such aid would be used, before going away for a week to relax in China, nearly every month. I, on the other hand, have been out in the fields with North Koreans, even on freezing winter days, questioning things: “Do you need food here, or do you simply need better irrigation?” Those were the questions I asked, and this attitude ultimately paid off.

NK News: What do you mean by “foreign aid workers taking a week off in China each month”?

Urbani: I mean exactly that. I mean that the money we pay for aid in North Korea goes (in part) to finance leisure time for foreign workers there, who feel “stressed out” by the environment, by the way things work (or do not work), by the lack of social life, etc. Do not think for a moment that every cent you donate for “food in North Korea” all goes to those who need food; part of it does, part of it doesn’t. I stand by this, because I have been there and I know what I have seen. People can sue me if they wish to do so.

“Do not think for a moment that every cent you donate for ‘food in North Korea’ all goes to those who need food; part of it does, part of it doesn’t.”

NK News: How much humanitarian aid does North Korea acknowledge?

Urbani: Not much, in my view. North Korea received a great deal of aid, and yet they perform surgery in hospitals with rudimentary techniques, and very little anaesthesia. As I have already said, my primary experience is that of a doctor, and the situation in hospitals is really primitive. The North Korean government cannot publicly acknowledge all the aid it receives, because it would portray an image of a very weak country (as it is in fact). And, once again, the country is at war, officially, and when you’re at war, you can’t afford to look weak.

NK News: So is it all a political problem?

Urbani: It’s an economic problem, nowadays. The division started as a political problem and has been kept frozen in time, due to economic reasons. A reunified Korea would not only make millions of Korean families happy by finally addressing a gross historical injustice; it would change forever the economic balance in the world. A unified Korea can conquer markets and overshadow its neighbours within a decade. This, in my view, is one of the reasons why North Korea “must” remain the poor, destitute, hopeless place that it is in our media.

NK News: And you think it isn’t?

Urbani: No, not in the way the media talk about it. I’ll give you an example: I have been attending a Sunday mass every day for 10 years in North Korea. When the Vatican ordains a bishop for Korea, it does so for both sides: the North and the South. I don’t care what the media say about religion in North Korea: I am here to tell you that, as a devout Christian, I went to church every Sunday there. It was not a tourist show. Whenever I told these things to colleagues and friends, they told me I was being brainwashed. This is what happens when one speaks of humanity and normality in North Korea. They are people like us, but to say so is taboo. They repay kindness with kindness and stupidity with even more stupidity.

“I don’t care what the media say about religion in North Korea: I am here to tell you that, as a devout Christian, I went to church every Sunday there. It was not a tourist show.”

I will give you an example: Once we had a business delegation coming over from Rome. One of the members, a wealthy businessman, strictly refused to leave some of his electronic equipment at the airport. Now, we may argue all day about the rules they have, but the bottom line is: their country, their rules. I don’t think someone visiting, for instance, Singapore, would make a fuss at the airport because the country does not allow anyone to bring drugs. Singapore has a zero tolerance policy for drugs, and that’s their law, we have to respect it. Same goes for North Korea. From time to time they clamp down on mobile phones or cameras that visitors may bring in, you have to accept this before you decide to travel there.

Now, this Italian businessman refused to cooperate, and he was simply left in the hotel most of the time, they took him around only when necessary and three days after he was on his way back, having accomplished absolutely nothing. I am not saying this to imply that whatever the North Koreans do is right, but simply to illustrate that this kind of behavior, one that says, “I do not feel obliged to respect any law in North Korea” cannot work. We don’t argue with custom and immigration authorities at U.S. airports; why should we do it in North Korea?

“We need to train all North Korean health care workers, doctors, and the like, because their knowledge is not up to date, and this is crucial [...] this is one of the areas where we witness more unnecessary delays”

NK News: To wrap things up, aside from a different mindset, then, what is needed to help North Korea in immediate terms?

Urbani: First of all, we need to train all North Korean health care workers, doctors, and the like, because their knowledge is not up to date, and this is crucial. And let me add once more this is one of the areas where we witness unnecessary delays. International organizations waste time and resources trying to translate manuals in Korean, while they could simply take books from the South and bring them up North. This has been suggested to me by North Koreans themselves, and I can’t see why this should not be done immediately. Second, they need more hygiene; simply put, they need soaps, detergents and disinfectants. So more knowledge and more prevention against simple diseases. This all comes before food.

“How many people are happy to admit they have an STD or cancer? Not many. North Koreans are no exception”

Another thing, in my view, is the heating problem. It makes no sense to try and rebuild North Korea if the people have to freeze at work or in their sleep. Finally, address the “delay issue,” and by that I mean delays in medical help, flood and natural disaster help, all of these things come before the simplistic idea of just delivering rice bags to the country. I think we need to change the viewpoint and start thinking that North Koreans need to be able to cure themselves, as we would all rather do, in the same situation. How many people are happy to admit they have an STD or cancer? Not many. North Koreans are no exception. It’s not easy for them to be constantly seen as “the patients,” the ones in need. Once we understand that, maybe things will improve.

Rotarians help feed North Korean children

Donating Mannapack food packages to the Pyongsong Orphanage.

Donating Mannapack food packages to the Pyongsong Orphanage.

Journal Pioneer

SUMMERSIDE, CANADA (Journal Pioneer) - Starving children in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea are the focus of a complex undertaking by Rotarians.

Charlottetown Rotarian Tom Wilkinson told members of the Summerside Rotary Club of the success their efforts have had in feeding starving children in a country not open to foreign involvement.

Charlottetown Rotarian Tom Wilkinson, center, meets will Summerside Rotary Club president Nelson Snow, left, and Rotary meeting chair David Anderson, following his address to the local club about the success of the Korean Friendship Network program. – Mike Carson/Journal Pioneer

Charlottetown Rotarian Tom Wilkinson, center, meets will Summerside Rotary Club president Nelson Snow, left, and Rotary meeting chair David Anderson, following his address to the local club about the success of the Korean Friendship Network program. – Mike Carson/Journal Pioneer

“A small group of Rotarians and Rotoractors (young Rotarians) decided to establish a network that might facilitate the Rotary goals that we were trying achieve,” Wilkinson said. “The Rotary goal is to promote international understanding, good will and world peace. A lot of people think we’re foolish. A lot of people think,’ what are you doing there? You haven’t got a hope in heck to get anywhere with that kind of a dictatorship.’ But the point is that if we’re not there who is going to be there. If we’re really going to promote international understanding, and really believe that that is what we’re about, as Rotarians, then we have to explore those possibilities, always in that effort to bring about understanding.”

They established the Korean Friendship Network, a volunteer umbrella group of nine Rotarians from Shanghai, Hong Kong, the U.S., Italy and from Canada, networking with Rotary Clubs and Rotarians interested in humanitarian and educational projects in North Korea.

“It is needed to determine and develop relationships, not only with the people of North Korea but also with the few NGO’s (Non Governmental Organizations) to give them support as well as government officials and agencies which will help ensure that projects and material, especially such as food and medicine and equipment, get through the maze of bureaucracy, and, in fact, reach our intended recipients and not end up feeding the military,” Wilkinson said.

“We help to identify and determine need, develop partnerships and negotiate access into the country,” he said “We determined a need. We located and negotiated and the need was for starving children, children die because of starvation. Both the flood and the drought that struck North Korea two years apart and over 75 per cent of the food production was lost in the floods.”

The group located and negotiated with an organization in the U.S. called, Feed My Starving Children.

“It’s a U.S. trades-based NGO who had the right consistency of food packages,” Wilkinson said. “That is very critical. The food pack is particularly designed for children. In order to help them, it has to be a very specialized type of food. It will not only help them to come back from starvation but also is acceptable to the country and the diet of the children.

While Feed My Starving Children had the ability to prepare the food packages, it lacked ability to ship a container into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We found the shipping company. It was Italian. There are very few shipping companies that will go into North Korea.”

Wilkinson said the money to ship the container and process the documentation needed to be found. It cost $8,000 and was raised by the Summerside Rotary Club.

He said the documentation was the most important and difficult part because of U.S. Customs regulations.

He said adding to the difficulties was the strained relationship between the U.S. and North Korea over nuclear testing.

“In that climate, we had to keep our focus.”

With all the obstacles in front of them, the group did manage to get the food packages into North Korea.

Rotaractors Gary Permenter and Michael Zhang travelled to North Korea at their own expense confirming that the food had in fact reached the children for whom it was intended. The project has provided 273,000 meals to disabled and orphaned children. 

During their visit, they discovered skin rashes with many of the children, particularly at one of the orphanages.

Sun Oven's Long Journey Ends In North Korea Orphanage

Rotary News Basket

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

Shanghai Rotary Has Its Own Sunshine Policy For N Korea


By Jane Lanhee Lee 

SHANGHAI (Dow Jones)--While the World Food Program helps to feed North Korea's hungry, Rotary International's Shanghai branch is trying to do its part to address the country's shortage of fuel. 

A scarcity of fuel for home heating and cooking has exacerbated the serious humanitarian situation in North Korea, which was hit by a series of famines in the late 1990s. The World Food Program estimates that 42% of North Korea's children suffer from chronic malnutrition, a legacy of those famines. Deforestation and a shortage of coal have meant that fuel for household use also is in short supply. 

Responding to a request from a North Korean diplomat, Rotary's Shanghai branch recently presented his countrymen with an oven that uses the sun's rays to cook food - giving a more literal meaning to "sunshine" policy, the name South Korea uses to describe its engagement with the North. 

In the 18 months that followed that initial request, relations between North Korea and the U.S. have deteriorated. President George W. Bush last year said the communist state was part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran, while Pyongyang has threatened to resume its nuclear program, raising fears it may develop nuclear weapons. 

Rotary's Shanghai club delivered the solar oven early in March, just days after North Korea had intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance plane. 

"Of course we were nervous," said Randal Eastman, a Canadian who is heading the club's project to donate solar ovens to North Korea. "But in Pyongyang it was actually very peaceful." 
Made up of expatriate business people working in Shanghai, the Rotary club raises money for community projects. 

The idea of donating a $12,000 solar oven came from North Korea itself, Eastman said. 
He was contacted out of the blue in July 2001 by Jong San-hung, a former North Korean diplomat at the United Nations Development Program. 

"Dr. Jong had long been interested in solar ovens and came to us because of Rotary's involvement in donations of them in other countries," said Eastman. 

Rotary International already had donated solar ovens to a number of developing countries in an effort to alleviate poverty and help preserve the environment. 

"Made In China" Tag Dominates Shelves In Pyongyang 

For the installation of the solar oven in North Korea, Eastman and several other members of Shanghai's Rotary club flew to Pyongyang. 

Jong, who is now working for a research arm under North Korea's trade ministry and helped plan the trip, suggested that the recipient of the oven be the Pyongyang Orphanage, home to about 280 children. 

"None of the children looked emaciated, but most of them had blotchy skin and runny noses," said Eastman. 

He didn't see any signs of famine in North Korea, Eastman said. Foreigners are usually paired up with minders in the North and aren't free to travel independently. 

Spring is usually the worst time of the year in the North, as grain from the previous year's harvest runs out and a new crop remains months away. 

The Rotary club also responded to a request from the orphanage for televisions as well as refrigerators to store food and medicines, Eastman said. 

Shopping around for four television sets and two refrigerators, Eastman got a glimpse of North Korea's recent steps toward economic liberalization. 

"Prices varied a lot from store to store, and we had to figure out through our contacts how to get the best price," he said. 

While shelves at local currency shops were practically empty, foreign currency stores remained well stocked. 

Last year, North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-il eased price controls, raised salaries, and gave greater freedom to the management at state-owned companies. 

Payments in hard currency in the North now supposedly are transacted in euros after it abandoned its official exchange rate with the U.S. dollar last year. 

"But they took all currencies - renminbi, euros, dollars, Japanese yen, and often times change from the store would be a mixture of the currencies too," Eastman said. 

The home appliances Eastman chose for the orphanage all carried "Made in China" tags, he said. In fact, most of the appliances on the shelves in Pyongyang were sourced from across the border, the Canadian said. 

Eastman could be returning to North Korea. He said Shanghai's Rotary plans to donate two more solar ovens, one to a Pyongyang child nursery and another to a district hospital. 

-By Jane Lanhee Lee, Dow Jones Newswires