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 :)

Transport



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.

Housing


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


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.

17 comments:

Jessica said...

love, love, LOVE this post! And the photos... btw I still read this. :-)

sassiekiwi said...

Thanks Jess ... It took a wee while to put together ... Blogger takes so stinking long to upload pics! Hope this helps bring some of it to life ...

amy said...

Sarah,

Amazing, thank you for putting so much time into this post-- what a valuable experience you put to words and pictures... I can only imagine the lives you touched and will touch sharing this post/blog/story. I am looking forward to learning more from you next post. Thanks Sarah! xo

Amy

Susannah Wilcox said...

Thanks for sharing Sarah, my heart goes out to all those people, and am reminded again of the many blessings in my life. They will be in my prayers. Beautiful photos by the way!

sassiekiwi said...

Hi Amy and Susie

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Yes ... my prayers are up there and I am praying that we do a great job fundraising. We make a huge and tangible difference in the lives of people there ... hope is a powerful thing.

Dee said...

Sarah, What a wonderful account of your trip, As Suzie said, it helps us to remember the blessings we have in our own lives. Your pictures tell a story on their own!
Dee x

sassiekiwi said...

Hi Dee

Thanks for stopping by ... yes ... I am certainly glad I live where I do! We are VERY blessed.

S

Catherine said...

Sarah,
What a moving account of your trip. I love the pictures too. What a mixture of emotions you must have experienced.

Catherine Smith

Frond said...

thank you taking the time and effort to put up this post. was just sent here by a friend and I'm glad I dropped by.

sassiekiwi said...

Hi Catherine

Thanks for stopping by and reading. Yes, I experienced a huge range of emotions. Complex country and complex thoughts. I think i came home even more convinced about what a good thing our partnership with Eugene Bell is. Stephen understands the mindset and how to work with the NKs and he is passionate about making a difference in the lives of the patients. I like that he is very transparent and demands a high level of accountability from those that Eugene Bell work with.

sassiekiwi said...

Hi Frond

Nice to meet you. I have noticed a big increase in traffic from Singapore today ... how did you find my blog?

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read. It was an amazing privilege to see the Eugene Bell foundation in action and to meet patients who I have been part of fundraising for, for 9 years.

Peace to you and yours

S

Puzzled by Puzzles! said...

As a relatively new parent to the school, I didn't know that the school has been involved in such a great deed. Kudos to u and the rest of the team who made this happened against all odds (year after year!)
Congratulations on your photographs. They were all very well taken and they spoke volumes of the emotions of the people. They also provided us a glimpse of N.Korea which most of us would have never had a chance to see/ know.
I read your blog through the link provided by my son's teacher via wiki. I was the one who shared it with many friends as I thought that such good deeds should be made known to more people.
Thank you for the wonderful and thoughtful post.
Sandy

sassiekiwi said...

Hi Sandy

Thanks for taking time to stop by and comment, and thanks also for the shout out. I figure the more we get the word out there, the better! Yes, as a new parent you wouldn't have heard a lot yet. We have a specific fundraising time for Dongdaewon and it kicks off next month ... believe me, you will be hearing alot at that time!

We fundraise for about a 6 week period, and are just starting to set up and put things into place for this years effort. I am hoping it goes well, as I have seen the difference we have made and am really feeling the responsibility to help make it happen again this year.

Thanks for the positive feedback.

Peace

S

Anonymous said...

Sarah,

A very moving account - very touching. I am so pleased I had the chance to read this on my son's class wiki (5P - British School). Thank you for taking the time to put it together and share.

Sharon Ashton

Anonymous said...

wow!
You are a great writer, and you put it into very heart touching sentences. I think it's great what you are doing.

Lemon said...

I wish I could see the beautiful landscape too! It would be scary if there were military vehicles on the road... Wooh, the house is creepy if you ask me!You know, the tables at the school are so similar to the chinese ones! The child is sooooo poor! I wish I could help! Awww, how heart breaking, soo nice of the wee girl... I wonder what it would feel like if you're unable to talk... I didn't know TB was this scary, or did I?! Why aren't there a lot of money spent on this research when there are spent on the Haiti research?! The people there are sooo poor! I wish I could donate money...

Anonymous said...

Im sure this took you some time sarah!!!
I hope you had a great time in N. korea!!!!!
Gabby