Tag Archives: children

A View over the River

The plan to monitor the transport of relief supplies ended at the Yalu, the border river between China and North Korea. We assume that the container with the proven baby food has reached its goal, the area around Yonsa.

Unfortunately, we cannot witness the distribution: After quite some back and forth, we were not given an entry visa. The precise reasons probably have little to do with the current situation and are not clear to me. Therefore, I am somewhat disappointed. I would have liked to explain the correct use of the nutrition on-site: something the recipients always appreciated. I would have liked to tell you about it as well. Now it is up to GAiN Germany to hold negotiations determining if further relief good transports are worthwhile and possible in the future.

I am already in Beijing when I find out that I would not be granted entry. To make the most of the extra time I still travel east to the border: From a reconstructed watch tower close to the Chinese border city of Dandong you have a wonderful view into North Korea: Fields with untiring workers plan ting corn, a couple of oxen or cows pulling a plow, a chugging tractor and a couple of villages in the distance.

Despite the harsh rhetoric in the media, despite the missile tests, it is downright peaceful here, everybody is busy doing their work. In contrast, the Chinese fields spread out behind my back. Close to the city they are covered in plastic or completely covered by green houses. I bless both sides of the river in my mind, I wish the people peace and well-being, that their work would feed them and they would enjoy it.

On a short boat trip on the river I witness Chinese tourists and their reaction to the North Koreans we see on our way: Some of them wave and smile at them, others call out a provocative “Hello” and less friendly words to the opposite bank. I feel like I am in the zoo: Observing North Koreans. I notice that most Chinese hardly know anything about their neighbors. They glance over the border curiously – but seem to have no interest in more.

Hearing and Seeing, Speaking and Understanding

For most of us it is normal to speak and listen, understand, and give a reply. We describe what we see and experience. We get information from the radio, TV, newspaper, or Internet. But as soon as one of our senses is impaired communication becomes challenging!

There are special schools in every province of North Korea but deaf or blind persons were not visible in public. Thanks to the commitment of people like Robert, things that are normal for us are becoming reality in North Korea: Communication for the deaf and blind with each other and with hearing and seeing persons. Read the following report by Robert who is deaf himself:

«Did you know that it was either forbidden or undesired to use sign language in schools for the deaf in Germany and Switzerland as late as the end of the 20th century? Due to a lack of infrastructure the deaf could not meet nor communicate with each other for centuries. This led to strong differences in the sign languages.

Today things are very different: Through the recognition of sign language and its presence in television, the improvement in public transportation, and the possibility of communication via videophone and webcam sign language is beginning to unify so that we can understand each other.

There are eight dialects of sign language in North Korea because there is a school for the deaf in each of the eight provinces. The schools were built in 1959 following the instruction of then president Kim Il Sung. The use of sign language in the schools for the deaf has been normal for a long time. All students that attended a school for the deaf can communicate in Korean sign language.

Since North Koreans hardly travelled beyond the borders of their provinces and did not communicate with each other, eight dialects evolved. Sign language developed differently in the different provinces (different shapes made by a hand, or a different direction of movement of the sign): The word “same” is signed differently in Pyongyang than in Hamhung. The possibility of communication with each other is the first prerequisite to unify sign language. In the past few months quite a lot has happened in this area.

Since the foundation of the Association of the Deaf the deaf can use their official status as a national organization to invite deaf persons from the provinces to Pyongyang for a gathering with the deaf.

Both the schools for the blind as well as four of the eight schools for the deaf recently received an Intranet connection.

As supporters of Agape international you helped this endeavor considerably: Thank you for your donations for the Center for the Deaf and Blind in Pyongyang!

Your donations have made the Intranet connection in the Center for the Deaf and the Blind possible: Laptops, routers, batteries, cables, converters – everything that is necessary for modern communication.
Your donations have made the Intranet connection in the Center for the Deaf and the Blind possible: Laptops, routers, batteries, cables, converters – everything that is necessary for modern communication.

These schools are now connected to the server center of the Center for Deaf and Blind and can communicate with each other via Intranet. This is a huge step!

The next project is to insert sign language interpreters in the North Korean television newscast. So far we have no practical experience on how to do this. I would like to organize a study trip to Europe in 2017 so that interested people can learn how to do this. I am sure I will succeed with your support!»

Project Director of Together Hamhung

Sign Language in North Korea

“In Korea hearing parents are ashamed of their deaf children because they do not fit into the majority of society. Deaf children are often hidden away, because their parents often do not know that there are special schools for the deaf. The situation for the deaf is very difficult. Some have a job, but most have never attended school and have no employment. I am excited about the success of several projects since the foundation of the Association of the Deaf. The best example is the Deaf Wood Workshop, built by the deaf themselves and on their own. They do everything independently. Among other things, this small firm builds and sells folding chairs. The sign language booklets are a big help during class in the newly opened kindergarten. Meanwhile fie books have been published with translations of terms into sign language. The authors themselves are deaf and their names are printed on the back cover of the issues. ‘They were so very proud. That really boosted their self-esteem.'”


A page from one of the sign language booklets: The Korean sound: «yu » (the character on the right) is demonstrated by the brown bear on the left. This sound is found in the word «yuziwon », i.e. kindergarten. The three raccoons stand for the syllables of kindergarten.


Deaf young people from a school that supports their need
Kids from the deaf mute school


Over a period of several years we have been encouraging and supporting our friends from the organization TOGETHER – Educational Center for Deaf, Blind and Non-disabled Children Hamhung e.V. They are committed to helping blind and deaf people. Thanks to your donations, we were able to facilitate the printing of the very first sign language booklet for parents and their deaf children. In addition, various courses for young adults were held. The village shop is selling some of the creative and practical everyday items that were created in one of the felting courses.

Early educational support is very dear to our hearts and we are supporting this organization in their endeavor to set up a kindergarten for deaf children. One of the main initiators of TOGETHER is Robert. The Bavarian TV station (Bayrischer Rundfunk) featured Robert and his involvement in North Korea in their weekly show „Sehen statt Hören” (Seeing Instead of Hearing). We are thrilled! The film is not available online, but Robert has given us permission to print the interview in the  previous edition of  our blog on North Korea.