Kim Jong Il’s death last week has sparked a lot of bizarre stories. We wanted to thank you for your support and tell you about our wild trip there this past summer.
Those most favored get the biggest ration. Everyone else fights for what is left. Over the last decade, it is estimated that one million North Koreans have died from famine. One third of the children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition.
The average North Korean has no control over their lives. They are told where they will work, where they will live, and how much food they will get. If they want to visit their mother in another city… they have to get permission for that too.
Food shortages actually strengthen the government’s grip over the country. People are forced to seek the regimes favor in order to get a larger ration.
We were asked by an American based Christian group to develop and donate fast growing fruit trees that would thrive in the -30F below zero winters. This organization runs a North Korean farm with 120 workers. They provide food for 2,000 school children each day, along with the children and workers in their orphanage, schools, and medical clinics.
Before flying to North Korea, I read about recent floods that had ruined much of their crops. The torrential rains made this year’s famine one of the worst in recent history.
I asked how much 10 tons costs and she said about $7,000. Being a numbers guy, I figured that was 100,000 meals for about $.07 each. The idea of helping to relieve so much suffering and possibly saving lives was too good to pass up. We were able to quickly raise the funds.
When I got to North Korea, there were no food stores. In fact, there are no advertisements or commercialism of any type.
The only place to buy rice was from a Chinese merchant who sold food supplies to freight ships. He worked out of his Audi, which was parked in front of a small warehouse. He commuted back and forth from China each day.
We had to deliver the rice in small batches; for fear that the government would get involved if they saw a large amount. I was also able to pick up candy and octopus for the children.
Christianity is a crime in North Korea and is sometimes punishable by death. The organization cannot evangelize but can only provide humanitarian aid. The director and I had a dinner meeting with two communist officials in order to get permission to bring the trees in. Before the meal, the director blessed the food so loudly that the entire restaurant could hear him. The Officials with us were visibly frightened by this… even they live in constant fear.
The senior communist official was a young guy, in his early 30s. In a country with few cars and few bicycles, he arrived in a chauffeur driven Lexus SUV. He later dropped me off at the foreigner’s hotel. I appreciated this since the city’s two hour a day allotment of electricity had ended and the entire city was pitch black.
The hotel was on a generator so I was able to watch the one and only TV station in North Korea. It was a cheesy series of film clips showing elaborate military parades and the leader touring farms, hospitals, and schools. One segment showed modern day female soldiers loading and firing an anti-aircraft gun. The screen then shows stock footage of a World War 1, Red Baron airplane being shot down. The camera returns to the women jumping up and down in celebration.
North Korea has a policy of ”Military First”. An amazing 20% of the population is in the military. They are considered the “best and the brightest”, with a higher standard of living than everyone else.
All information in North Korea is strictly controlled. I could not bring my cell phone into the country and I was thoroughly searched to make sure I had no magazines, papers, or pictures. I was followed by a military official who made sure I did not try to corrupt anyone. He was intimidating and would scold me every time I wanted to take a picture.
This guard pretended not to understand English. After drinking a liter bottle of beer for lunch, his demeanor completely changed. He now spoke English and pleaded for me to stop taking pictures.
Cameras scare North Koreans, especially when held by an American. There is no justice system for the falsely accused. If someone says you criticized the regime, then you will likely disappear. If a member of your family escapes the
country, then you will be the one who serves time in a prison camp.
I had to leave a day earlier than expected, because the next day was the 17th anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il’s father. Foreigners were not allowed in the country on this day. This was one of those special holidays where people get meat in their food ration.
North Korea has a natural unspoiled beauty that comes from having almost no industrial or commercial development. They farm using cows instead of machinery. They have no concept of the Internet or the rest of the world. They are told that Americans will eat their children and that the first time Kim Jung Il played golf, he scored 11 hole in ones.
Workers make about $3 a month. Yes, that’s $3 a month. For this, they work 10 hours a day, six days a week.
Kim Jong Il’s 29 year old son has taken power and most people predict that any changes will be gradual.
We’ll keep you updated on our efforts in North Korea. I purposely did not mention the name of the Christian organization we are working with there, in order to protect them. Several people have asked how to reach them in order to help with their child feeding programs. If this is an interest of yours then please feel free to call us and we will forward their information. These people risk their lives to help others and have to raise their own support.
I want to thank you for supporting us with your business. You made it possible for us to provide food relief in Haiti and North Korea. You also helped us plant over 100,000 trees this year in some of the poorest places on earth… mostly fruit trees that will provide sustainable food sources and income.
The needs are growing in America as well. You helped to provide replacement trees for victims of the Joplin Missouri tornados. Now we are starting a new program of planting fruit trees in city areas with high homelessness.