As tourism has grown over the years in North Korea, so has the interest of foreigners wanting to leave a positive impact after their visit. It was with this in mind that we initially thought of the idea to sponsor a deaf kindergarten and the deaf & blind centre in Pyongyang.
In 2015, we met Robert Grund, the Pyongyang representative of the World Federation of the Deaf, the director of TOGETHER-Hamhung charity and Pyongyang’s only deaf foreign resident. He established the first kindergarten for the deaf in Pyongyang’s Moranbong District, wholly paid for and funded by a small German non-profit Disabled Persons Organization.
Robert has long championed the needs of deaf children in the DPRK. He first came to the country in 2004, just after finishing school, and has kept coming back, despite the many challenges thrown in his way. His efforts have resulted in an association for the deaf and the participation of North Koreans in the International Congress for the Deaf.
As a travel company that has been visiting the DPRK for over 10 years, Young Pioneer Tours have often contributed to various appeals and charities. We are proud to support the deaf kindergarten and the deaf & blind centre as a proactive way to give back to the people and improve the lives of the citizens of the DPRK.
The Deaf and Blind Centre serves several purposes, but the critical goals are; to increase awareness about people with disabilities in North Korea, provide specialized education and opportunities to deaf and blind students, and to help provide employment for deaf and blind adults.
The charity teaches braille and sign language on site to young students and provides ongoing education to students beyond that as well. Deaf and blind students and adults translate materials into braille and provide sign language videos for educational material to the local intranet and schools throughout the country. It also has a carpentry workshop for deaf craftsmen and puts together a team of deaf football players who sometimes even compete abroad when enough donations is raised.
The centre is still partially under construction and in need of all kinds of materials and educational aids, from desks and chairs to pens and notebooks, tools for the workshop and sporting goods for kids, as well as technical items like braille typewriters and printers/embossers.
Where does my donation go?
Your donation will bring in resources and goods to help the children of the kindergarten, and the deaf and blind Koreans who support them. We send your donation directly to the foreign NGO, who then use the funds to contribute to projects for the kindergarten and centre. It will not be used for any other purpose than benefiting one of the most vulnerable areas of Korean society.
Our current project is “help to self-help”; empowering the deaf people of the DPRK. Deaf Koreans design, create and publish sign language booklets, which are used by the children in the kindergarten, and other care facilities for disabled Korean children. Your donation will go to fund the design and printing of these booklets, to empower deaf Koreans and enable deaf children to learn. Everything from the computers used to create them, to the ink and paper need to print the booklets, must be paid for and this is where your donation will help.
Promoting communication of deaf people between North and South Korea
On 17th of February 2016, a special delegation of South Koreans from the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and Robert met three deaf North Koreans for the first time. This was a historic moment, as the shocking discovery of sign languages used in North and South Korea – in contrast to the Korean spoken language – are very different, which caused many communication problems.
Hyemi Cho, a South Korean native, has partnered with TOGETHER-Hamhung and YPT to contribute her efforts into teaching both Koreans the sign language of the North and the South. This has enabled better communication amongst the deaf community on the Korean Peninsula. She has moved to Berlin to be used as an interpreter when deaf conferences are held between North and South, but she also wishes to teach the deaf community the difference between the two sign languages.
Due to ongoing donations and support, deaf North Korean people were able to travel abroad and participate in international events of the deaf community. Deaf delegates from both North and South Korean countries had the opportunity to exchange experiences there for the very first time.
To reach the deaf Korean community even further, TOGETHER-Hamhung and YPT launched a deaf web series called Sonmal Sueo which breaks down the differences between the two sign languages and teaches either languages to improve communication and remove any possible barriers.
Is it possible to visit the deaf & blind centre and kindergarten?
The kindergarten and centre is not a usual stop for tourists during their visit to Pyongyang. However, we are able to arrange tourists who contribute a significant donation or help raise awareness to visit both the kindergarten or the centre during their stay in North Korea with YPT.
How do I know what you received and where the money is going?
Donations are collected separately from our main accounts, and the kindergarten and centre is accounted for separately. As we are collaborating with TOGETHER-Hamhung, the donations are sent to them directly on a quarterly basis.
How can I volunteer in North Korea?
We run our adopted cooperative farm in Pyongyang for those who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and to learn about organic farming. If you’re interested in volunteering in North Korea please get in contact with us.