Much to our surprise, our humble Farming Volunteer tour has made quite a few headlines lately. As usual however there’s a lot of spin, so we thought it worthwhile to restate our intentions behind the tour.
As tourism has grown in the DPRK, so has the interest of people who want to do, and experience more in the country. It was with this in mind that we initially thought of the idea to run a farming volunteer program in North Korea. When we approached our partners in Pyongyang back in 2013, not only were they extremely positive about our idea, but they suggested that rather than simply popping into a farm, doing our thing and then leaving, that we go meet them first, build a rapport and see exactly how we could help them practically through a tourist program. It was following these meetings, and after running our initial successful farming volunteer program that we decided to adopt this cooperative farm as A YPT charitable project.
What is your Farming Volunteer Program?
The Farming Volunteer Program is our way of helping our Pioneers to contribute physically, socially and most importantly culturally. The majority of the tour is your typical sightseeing but for one special day our group steps very far off the beaten tourist track to see how life living and working on a cooperative farm is. Not only is it one of the most unique experiences you can have in the country, it’s an opportunity to mingle with local farmers and have a positive and lasting impact on the farm. Although a few articles have claimed we are “Trivialising food insecurity”, in our opinion this shows a lack of attention paid to what we’re actually offering. We understand the food situation in the DPRK much better than most and it’s certainly not going to be solved overnight by a day on a farm. However everything begins somewhere, and we believe that it’s foolish to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Some help is better than none and raising awareness is part of the goal. The farming aspect of the tour is really about the experience and the engagement. It’s a chance for tourists to interact with and learn about the farmers and for the farm workers to meet foreigners and learn about us, an opportunity they most likely would not otherwise have. Aside from the benefit of this interaction, there is a direct economic benefit to the farm as well. This comes from the fact that all profit from the tour is used to buy goods to help the farmers and residents of the cooperative farm. The goods we bring in are not just random, but items that we have discussed with the people that run the farm, and quite often entail simple things like school books, clothes for the children of the cooperative farm, medicines, vitamins, tools or other things that can be difficult to to get hold of in the country. For any money that we bring in, we are fully aware how charitable projects and cash being handed over can often end up in accusations of foul play, or corruption, so we do not donate cash, instead donating fuel vouchers which can be used to operate tractors, generators and other machinery- something many Co-operative farms struggle to do considering the price and scarcity of fuel in the country.
How else can I help or donate?
We tend not to take physical donations unsolicited due to the logistics of bringing in goods and to ensure they are practical and worthwhile but if you have goods you’d like to donate please contact us first. We also take donations either through our dedicated charitable PayPal account or as an optional donation when booking a tour.
Is this something you plan to expand on?
Very much so. In the long term, we would like to extend our assistance to many places, and are currently in discussions with local charities and an orphanage about how to also help them. We also regularly donate to assist with emergency situations in the country, such as the terrible flooding that affected Rason earlier this year. We also sponsor the Korea Economic and Cultural Center for the Blind and Deaf- a body that assists with educating blind and deaf Koreans, promoting awareness of the deaf and blind and helping to find employment for them. We began our partnership with them in October 2015.
Tell us about your farm.
Chilgol Co-operative farm is located in the far outskirts of Pyongyang city. This farm is operated by over a hundred different Korean families and is capable of growing cabbage, rice, strawberries, plums, tobacco, sesame seeds, potatoes, corn, cucumbers and chilies. We’ve selected this farm specifically to give our volunteers an exclusive insight and an experience to not only work hard, but to get a better understanding of the lives of co-operative farming families..