Saturday, January 16, 2010

All You Need is Love (- and a little creativity to raise some $$$)

In my previous post, I wrote about my visit to NK with the Eugene Bell Foundation. In this post I will be focusing on Dongdaewon, which is the TB care centre in NK that our SFS community have supported for the past 6 years. I thought it would be interesting if we take a tour around the care centre and see the very real difference that our fundraising has made in the lives of the staff and patients at this centre. Come along and check it out! It is pretty inspiring what our faculty, students and school community have achieved.

Welcome to Dongdaewon. When I visited, there were about 163 patients being treated at the centre. As you can see it is out in the countryside.

This is the director, Mr Cha. He is a new director because the previous director died.

I first met the Dongdaewon patients at Sadong. Many patients had come by truck to do testing for MDR TB. It was very cold and the patients had to stand and wait for a long time for their testing, as there were patients from many care centres there for testing. Someone pointed out the patients waiting to me and told me that this particular group had come from Dongdaewon. I was very excited to see them, as I have been involved in fundraising for them for a long time and finally, I could meet the patients in real life. Someone told the patients that I was a teacher from SFS. A buzz moved through the line and their faces lit up with warmth and smiles. There were many thank yous and a lot of bowing. The patients are so incredibly appreciative of our help. It was a very humbling thing to be on the receiving end of that.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is an escalating problem with MDR TB in North Korea. At present, 56 of the 163 patients at Dongdaewon are receiving MDR meds. This time around, we sputum tested another 30 or so patients. Any patients that were sputum tested have been through several rounds of DOTs medications and are not responding. So potentially, we could have half of our patients having MDR meds. This is a big problem. Financially the drugs cost a lot more (about $100.00 USD a patient per month, whereas DOTs costs about $50.00 USD for an entire treatment cycle). In addition, they take a lot longer to act, and the response rate isn't as good. Testing is very detailed. In the picture above, you can see that patients are weighed and measured.

They then talk with the medical staff and provide a sputum sample. To do this, they cough up mucus from deep within their lungs. This is collected in bottles and sent to South Korea to be cultured. The culture takes about 5 months to grow, and from that, doctors get a detailed picture of which drugs the each MDR patient is resistant to, and which drugs can be used in their treatment.

Each patient is photographed and their photograph is used to identify them with their medication when they receive it in 6 months time. They will receive a box of medicine particularly tailored to their needs. As I mentioned above, this medication is a lot more expensive than DOTs meds, but without it the patients will die. The drugs make the patients feel very sick. Their bodies fight the drugs, but they need the drugs to fight their TB. At present we provide all the DOTs meds for all DOTs patients at Dongdaewon and also for three of the MDR patients.

Eugene Bell run a great scheme where they match individual donors with individual MDR patients to help. They send each donor a comprehensive update from the visits in. If you are interested in helping a NK patient this way, please contact Eugene Bell here. I can vouch that the patients WILL get their drugs and the help you provide.New patients have to wait 6 months for their drugs to arrive, and as mentioned in my previous post, not all patients will live to see the drugs that give them the hope of a new day and a life of health. It was wonderful to see some of our patients who have now gone through several cycles of their drugs and are looking so much better than when I first saw them in photos.

So ... many people wonder, where does the money go that we give? SFS commits to raising the money for a 6 month resupply kit. For the past few years, we have been able to provide the resupply kit for a whole year at Dongdaewon. We will talk more about the resupply kit in a moment, but lets see where else the money has gone. In the picture above, you can see the resupply kit we sent in boxes. Inside the boxes are supplies for the xray and microscope, drugs, medical records, plastic for the greenhouses and numerous other bits and pieces the centre needs to care for the patients. You can see a small chinese tractor that we have provided the centre with. This is used in the fields to help with nutrition. Many people in NK have poor nutrition and this makes them more susceptible to TB. An important part of treatment, is good nutrition. The centre grows it's own food. You can also see the a truck in the picture above. Our money was used to provide the centre with truck. They are able to use it to transport patients around the countryside. When the patients came to Sadong for testing, they came in the truck.

One of the important things that we have provided Dongdaewon with, is an x-ray machine. This is used to assist the doctors in diagosing patients and the progress of their TB. Eugene Bell have trained an x-ray technician - Mr Huh (you can see him holding onto the green thing in the picture above). Mr Huh is from NK and travels around the countryside with Eugene Bell, fixing the machines as we visit each centre. In between EB visits, he cannot travel around, as people are not able to move freely between provinces. You need the appropriate papers to move around the country, and these must be checked at various check points along the way. Part of our resupply kit provides parts for the machine, along with the films and solutions needed. At a couple of centres we visited, Eugene Bell provided a mobile x-ray truck, which can travel to different locations.

One of the reasons why the x-ray machine is so important, is that without it, doctors resort to fluroscopy. You can see a fluroscope in the picture above. Dr Linton is standing in as a patient. The room is normally in total darkness. On the right hand side of the picture you can see something that looks like a canister. That emits a stream of radiation which passes through the patient and lights up an image on the screen in front. A doctor has to stay in the room with the patient to read the screen. When the machine is turned off, the picture is gone. The problem is that doctors see many patients and are exposed to large amounts of radiation. Many have become sick and died from radiation poisoning. The x-ray machine is much better, because the doctor does not have to stay in the room with the patient. They can read the resulting picture without being exposed to all the radiation. Sadly, if the machine breaks down, they will resort to the fluroscope while waiting for more parts.

In this picture you can see one of the Dongdaewon doctors checking out patient samples in a microscope. Notice how the room has big windows and is very light. It is because there is no power except by generator. Doctors rely on natural light to read x-rays and look at samples. The reason they have a microscope to use at Dongdaewon is because of our fundraising. We also provide all the stains, slides etc that they need as part of the resupply kit.

I was able to look through a prepared slide. The TB bacteria shows up as thin red rods. They are so tiny and harmless looking, and yet these are the very bacteria that cause suffering for multitudes of people world wide. (Picture borrowed from South Carolina School of Medicine).

Other people also contribute towards Dongdaewon. Although we provide supplies for nutrition, Caritas provides soya beans. These are highly nutritious and cheap, and Caritas provides them to many care centres.

One company also provided a winter warmer kit, which included new winter coats for the patients!

This year, at SFS we sent several thousand paper cranes up to NK. Students were unable to write letters to wish patients good health, so we took paper cranes. Students from all over the school made hundreds of cranes - each one representative of wishes for good health and peace to the patients. Some of our JK students sprinkled glitter on their cranes as a sample of their wishes. When I presented the cranes with the wishes of our students, nurses and staff faces lit with pleasure and joy. There was lots of smiling and laughing. It was a very very COLD day when we were at Dongdaewon so not many patients were outside. Some were and received strings to take back to their rooms. The staff took the cranes around the various patient rooms and there were a lot of smiles and pleasure at the thoughts, wishes and personal touch from our students.

In my next post, I will introduce you to some of the patients and their stories. We are a few weeks out from kicking off our fundraising for 2010. Look at the difference you have made already and start dreaming of what we could do this year. Maybe you have some creative ideas that you would like to try for fundraising. Talk to your teachers ... or if you are staff, let me know what you are doing and go for it. This year, when we kick off, I am going to put up weekly reports so we can inspire and celebrate each other's creativity. If you are not from SFS and reading this, maybe you are inspired to do something to help. Eugene Bell would love to talk with you. They have a sound history and great working relationship with the people in North Korea. They are a trustworthy organisation to support. You can contact them here.

Thanks for reading ... see you soon!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

North ... South ... Here I am!

Hi all

Please accept my apologies for the lateness of this post. I got back from my trip to the neighbour north of me and dropped straight into Christmas madness. Not sure if anyone is reading this anymore ... have been a terrible poster this past year. This year I am really seeking to have my life more in balance ... so I have time to think and blog ...

So ... the trip North. The most common question I heard upon my return home from the kids was, "did you have a fun time?" Well ... not exactly the place one goes for FUN! The other question I heard was, what was it like? It's so hard to answer that question. In a sentence I would say, fascinating, beautiful, heartbreaking and amazing, all rolled up in one big messy ball. I thought I would put pen to paper and try and describe some of it ... using pics to help.

First of all, if you are wondering what this is all about, read Heading North. It will explain everything, as well as provide a great link to the Eugene Bell site for more information. I went to North Korea as our school representative and also as the official photographer for Eugene Bell. The picture above is our team that travelled for two weeks. 6 of us went in and we had NKs travelling with us the entire time as well. All your prayers were answered and Dr Linton said it was one of the smoothest trips he has had ... no one got sick and everything went relatively smoothly which is not at all normal for up there.

Okay ... grab a cuppa and sit with me a while ... here we go!

Sarah's Trip to NK - Nov/Dec 2009

Welcome to NK. In this post I will discuss several aspects of my impressions - the land, transportation, housing, the people and the work of the Eugene Bell Foundation. In my next post, I will talk specifically about the care centre our school supports at Dongdaewon.

The Land

Going to NK was like stepping back in time 50 years. It is by and large an agrarian society. The first thing that hit me about the landscape was that it was beautiful and unpolluted. I was not expecting it to be beautiful. It was the beginning of winter when everything is barren and brown and bare, and I just didn't think it would be. North Korea has great mountains, rolling hills and valleys. Much of the countryside is terraced for rice and I imagine in the spring, when the rice paddies are green, it must be a beautiful sight. There are not too many trees in the countryside, as most have been taken for firewood but I did see evidence of some replanting, along with many trees along the sides of the roads. There were more trees than I thought there would be. Outside of the major cities and towns, many of the roads are unsealed ... and the ones that are sealed do not guarantee a smooth ride :)


We primarily travelled around in a convoy of two vans, and a Eugene Bell truck for the medical supplies. The truck you see in the picture above is typical of the trucks that Eugene Bell provide care centres with. They are often used to transport patients.

This picture is one of my favorite from the trip. I think our minders thought I was a little loopy as I went into raptures about bullocks (mainly because I wanted a pic and I was trying to win them over and let me take a picture which took some persuading!) There are very few cars on the roads. Most vehicles we saw were military vehicles. The most common form of transport was bullock cart. Most people people were walking and some have bikes. Very rarely did I see one person on a bike. It was common to see a mother with two children - one on the back and one in the basket on the front, or, someone pushing the bike and using it to move heavy loads.


The capital city has many apartment houses for people to live in, but people are not free to just move around the countryside and live where they want. To live in the capital, you would probably have to have "connections". The house above is very typical of houses in the countryside ... no electricity and if any heating, it will be ondol heating (under the floor) using coal. The care centres we visited heated with coal, but had to use it selectively to heat specific areas.

The People

In a word, the people are beautiful. They have such an amazing spirit. Life is full of hardship for them, and they endure. They work. They love. They laugh. They smile. They weep. They mourn. They even dare to hope. In many ways, I think that it is good they do not really know what life is like outside of the country, because I don't know how you could endure the hardships they do if you knew that it didn't have to be that way.


Children are children where ever you go in the world. Children in NK work very hard. They have two sessions of school and go to either the morning session or the afternoon one. I saw them working the fields in working parties on various days. From a young age, they are trained to work. We visited a school one day which was really interesting for me. The picture above is part of our welcoming committee - the wee one in the background looked absolutely thrilled to see us. We could not get her to make eye contact or crack a smile. Think our white faces were a little scary! :)

Eugene Bell do not get to do many programs with the children. They would really like to and are constantly asking officials to allow them to help. The school we visited is part of a wellness check they are able to do through a hospital they work with. This hospital has about 20 schools in its care and visits each one for a week every year. They take in a mobile xray truck, doctors, nurses, a dentist and an optometrist. If children need glasses, they are made then and there.

Often, while fundraising, people say that they would be happy to support programs if they were for the children. I met a mother who said she was not afraid to die of her TB as she knew the party would care for her child. Think about that for a minute. Will the party soothe her child at night when she is sad? Will the party love the child the way a mother can? If you want to help children, help their parents so that their children do not catch TB from them, or even worse, become orphans.

This beautiful wee one turned up with her father one day when we were taking sputum samples to send off for MDR testing (Multiple Drug resistant TB). She was a splash of color in the midst of beige, brown and black. She had on her best pants, high heeled sneakers and her warm coat (it was about -10C that day). As we weren't working with children, I noticed her immediately and was curious. I smiled at her and said hi in Korean. Her face lit up and she gave me a beautiful smile back and bowed to me. I kept an eye on her throughout the morning. She waited patiently with her father and I continued to stew in my curiousity. Why was she here? Why was she not in school? Was she caring for her father? Over several hours, she watched and waited as patients lined up to take height, weights and sputum samples. Her eyes were bright and curious and not once did I see her complain of the cold or the time spent waiting. I think I fell in love with her - a beautiful beautiful wee girl. My heart broke when I saw her step onto the scales to be weighed for her medical records. A child that age should have a life full of promise ahead, not a fight for her life with such a horrible illness as TB. Pray for her.

One other child I want to introduce you to is this wee one. She also came with her father, wrapped up warm and waiting patiently. Her parents are both medical doctors. When she was three years old, she contracted TB in her larynx. To save her life they had to operate and she has had a trach tube in ever since. She breathes unfiltered air through that tube and is unable to talk. She came because they think she has TB again. Pray for this little one.

Eugene Bell Foundation

Eugene Bell was founded by Dr Stephen Linton (seen here with a patient receiving her MDR meds). Dr Linton grew up in South Korea as the son of missionaries. For more information on the work of Eugene Bell, click here. I am really impressed with what they do. Most of the funds they use are raised through grass roots fundraising and donors through church. Stephen runs a very transparent ministry and this extends to finances. They are responsible with what they are given and are working hard to make a difference in the lives of the people in NK.

The primary focus of Eugene Bell is on treating TB. There is a very serious problem with TB in North Korea and there are three types of TB they are dealing with. The first type is standard TB. They use DOTs meds for this and it is quite cheap to treat patients. If they do not respond to DOTs, they could have MDR (Multiple Drug Resistant) TB. This is much harder to treat. Patients donate sputum samples, these are taken back to South Korea and cultivated for 5 months. They then work out an individualised drug treatment program for each patient. This is about 50 times more expensive than DOTs treatment. It is also much harder to treat. If patients do not respond to that, they may have XDR TB. Without medicine, the patients will die. As TB is airborne, it is easily passed on, so patients under treatment need to go to care centres and stay there for treatment. Often this can take a couple of years.

TB is a horrible disease and both the disease and the drugs are harsh on the patients. There is not a lot of money spent on research for this, so treatments are old and a little brutal. It tends to crop up in poorer countries with poor nutrition. Some people have asked why Eugene Bell focus on treatments instead of immunizing. The immunizations for TB are not very effective. You can be immunized and still catch it. The lady on the right in the above picture, is 42. She is being supported by her mother and is a doctor who caught TB (probably MDR). She came a long way because she heard they might be xraying and knew she needed to get one. When she found out that we were delivering a new xray truck to the centre and not xraying, she broke down and could not stop crying for several hours. Her tears were the tears of someone who was at her end ... and the last straw was that she had come all that way feeling so horrible, to no avail. We did xray her ... and still she cried. I just can not imagine her suffering and that of many of the patients. Her face to me is the face of despair.

The saddest part of the trip for me, was the boxes left at the end of patient presentations. The patients they were for had died before they could receive their meds. I stood one day looking at the patient pictures and stats on each box. Very few of the patients were over 40 ... ages 28, 32, 29, 44. Who were these people? Mothers, sons, daughters, fathers. Each one a life cut off early due to lack of drugs and treatment. TB is treatable and we can help.

In contrast, the best part of the trip for me was delivering meds to patients (especially ours at our care centre). The joy on their faces when they received their meds was a humbling thing. I love the look on this lady's face as she receives her MDR drugs. To me, her face is the face of hope.

I am going to finish this post here. In my next post I will take you on a guided tour of our care centre and walk you through the very practical differences that are made due to the fundraising from our students and faculty.