In April a colourful mix of farmers, experts, sponsors, and deputies of the North Korean Embassy celebrated 20 years of successful collaboration between North Koreans and Swiss in the assembly room of the Reformed Church in Zweisimmen.
»Yun was just a good man. We could only communicate with a few words, but we got along with each other right from the beginning. He was interested in everything, took many notes and drew sketches. All of this in order to do things this way in North Korea, too,“ remembers farmer Walter Gobeli with enthusiasm. “When you meet him, please give him my kind regards!”
16 years ago, Walter Gobeli and his wife Erna were one of the courageous host families offering a North Korean agronomist practical training during the summer months.
After Yun’s departure trainees followed summer after summer, totalling almost one hundred. They wanted to transfer Swiss mountain farming knowledge to the mountainous areas of their country. Today cheese and yogurt are very popular in North Korea and are being produced in more than 300 small cheese dairies all over the country.
During the celebration Mr Ulrich Zeller, the mayor of Zweisimmen, as well as the Counsellor of the North Korean Embassy, praised this manifold and creative partnership. Host families told about their funniest but also most challenging experiences of two very different cultures sharing life.
Daniel gave some insight into life in North Korea today and Stefan and Anita Burckhardt shared the present key aspects of the project. Solemn alphorn tunes expressed what one cannot express in words: We want to be a blessing for the North Korean people and pray for their well-being.
North Korean experts who have undergone an advanced training have left the teachers, host families, as well as the trainees with vivid memories. Since 1996, when the first delegation of experts visited Switzerland, more than 130 persons visited our country for stays from a few days to a maximum of six months.
Only recently I was looking up the places where people had come from. There were people from about one third of all the North Korean communities, i.e. out of the 150 communities of the country. Thus, I conclude that the knowledge, experience and expertise have spread across the whole country. Beside the twelve model cheese dairies Agape international opened directly during the last ten years of collaboration, there may be more than 300 small cheese dairies – according to a deputy of the North Korean Embassy.
For the Swiss host families the unknown North Korea has become a place where they know people they have shared everyday life with for several months and dealt with experiences, so that North Koreans would have more food again for a better life. The unknown was strange and might have led to anxiety – but the encounters became bridges, producing closeness and confidence.
Thank you very much for investing in people during the last 20 years and for having made it real.
Our Together in Hamhung partners have let us know that the booklet about sign language has been produced.
Most deaf children in North Korea, as elsewhere, have hearing parents. My First Sign Language Booklet can help hearing parents communicate with their deaf children as soon as possible using sign language as their common language. However, not only has the alphabet booklet been edited but another one also about sign language numbers. Thanks to your gifts our Together in Hamhung partners are thinking about publishing a third booklet containing animals and plants or verbs in sign language.
The past twenty years of collaboration between Agape international and the Democratic Republic of North Korea can be divided into two parts of ten years. We reported about the first ten years in our last edition of Our heart’s concern. In this edition we will focus on the second 10-year period.
In 2005 the North Korean government asked us to close our project office in Pyongyang. Therefore Agape international had to decide how the work in North Korea would go on. Without Swiss experts in the country, agricultural counselling was very limited. In 1996, thanks to a new contact with the Non-Conventional Energy Development Center (NCEDC) in Pyongyang, an area of activity apart from the food production was launched: energy supply. In the mid-1990s North Korea, as a country without its own oil fields but with coal mining plants, most of which were obsolete and some of which were flooded, was looking for alternative energies.
Wind as a Source of Energy
The first project was developing small windmills with the goal of using local material and knowledge combined with modern European technology. The first prototypes of windmills powered 300 to 2000 watt helped test technical challenges one on one. These small windmills can cover the needs of a household by producing electricity for light, TV and communication. In 2008, in the southern part of the country, the first 300-watt windmill was installed in the LPG Cooperative Samhun. For the first time it provided a family’s home far away from the village with electric power. In 2009 a 2000-watt windmill of the type Kukate was mounted and since 2010, on the island of Duru in the Taedong River in Pyongyang, the Kukate wings with rotor blades of polyester instead of metal have been turning by wind. Both windmills are providing electric power for about 20 homes.
Producing and Saving Energy
From 2010 on, the focus of the second project in collaboration with NCEDC has been saving energy. In North Korea as in Switzerland, there is a huge energy-saving potential in existing buildings in towns as well as in the countryside. The two seminars that were organised and lead by Werner H., PhD, on energy-saving constructions were very successful. There were more than 150 participants. After this three Korean experts published the first North Korean specialised book on this subject.
In Ryokpho, the vegetable cooperative about 15 kilometres south-east of Pyongyang, accessible in an hour’s bicycle ride by the employees of the NCEDC, two pilot scheme buildings were renovated and newly built for saving energy, according to energy-efficient standards by using the acquired expertise. Both buildings now serve experts from the whole country for further training.
Most of these activities were financed through private persons. Sometimes different organisations, namely the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), the German Agro Action (GAA), as well as GAiN Germany (baby food) help contribute to better nourishment, fruit growing and berry crop training.
What fascinates us about our job in this East Asian country is the open-mindedness of the people. Our Asian contacts, specialists and trainees are people like us, with ideas, emotions, wishes, duties and needs.