Day 1 : Wonsan
In March, the First Steps team visited a class of 14 year olds at the Wonsan Secondary Boarding School (orphanage). The students, who would be in grade 9 in Canada, were studying for their final exams.
The Wonsan orphanage is one of First Steps’ beneficiary schools. At 9:30 am each day the students have a break and enjoy fresh nutritious soymilk, which is made at the local Bongchun Children’s Foodstuff Factory.
At the boarding school, there are smiles all around during the morning soymilk break. Good nutrition means children are not hungry and can concentrate more fully on their studies.
The students are wearing their jackets in the classroom because the rooms are unheated, another consequence of ongoing sanctions. None of this stops the children from having some fun with each other!
While talking to the students, we learned that 14-year-old Jung Myong-Bom likes to draw so we asked him if he could draw us a picture.
Jung Myong-Bom’s drawing, on the back of an envelope we gave him, depicted the Wonsan Boarding School and a soymilk delivery truck.
Day 2: Wonsan
A mother and her son arriving to the Yangji Daycare in Wonsan, Kangwon Province
A polite morning greeting at the Yangji Daycare
Every child at the Yangji Daycare in Wonsan receives a morning shot of garlic
Loving hands serve up soymilk at the Yangji Daycare
Careful sips of warm nutritious soymilk at the Yangji Daycare
Children look through the window at the Yangji Daycare in Wonsan
While in Wonsan, the team also visited the Poha Kindergarten. Teacher Hwang Hye-Sun explained that the children will be going to grade one in April. In North Korea, children begin kindergarten at age five and attend for two years before going to elementary school.
Each of the 250 children attending the Poha Kindergarten receive a morning cup of soymilk. Teachers in many of the schools we visit comment on the impact that this nutrition break has on their students: they have more energy, do not complain of hunger and can concentrate better.
“We are full of thanks when we think of those that are giving on behalf of our children.”
- Director Ri Hui-Ok of the Poha Kindergarten
Day 3: Tongchon
Tongchon is a small farming community south of Wonsan. First Steps sends soybeans to the local Tongchon Foodstuff Factory to help ensure the daycare and kindergarten children in this area receive soymilk.
It was almost naptime at the Tongchon Daycare when the First Steps team visited. As soon as the teachers clapped their hands and said it was naptime, the children did not dillydally. They gathered their pillows and laid down without complaint!
At the Pungsan Kindergarten in Tongchon the children were curious to see who had come to visit. Only 58% of the children here meet the national standard height for their age. The cup of soymilk is an important part of their daily diet.
Day 4: Munchon
First Steps has been working in Munchon to provide micronutrient Sprinkles to mothers and their babies since 2016. Sprinkles are added to food and are proven to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies in pregnant women and children. At the Jangbaek Clinic director Jun Hyang-Hwa explains about Sprinkles to mother Ho Gum-Ran. Mrs.Ho’s baby (cuddled on her back) is nine-months-old and will receive Sprinkles.
Micronutrient Sprinkles were developed at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children in 1996 to fight micronutrient deficiencies. They make a big difference to those who receive them. Mrs. Yun said that she became stronger after taking Sprinkles during her pregnancy. We met her when she came to the Jangbaek Clinic in Munchon to pick up Sprinkles for her 12-month-old daughter Jung Yo-Jong. When mothers pick up Sprinkles, they also receive an informational brochure explaining the benefits of Sprinkles.
A Sprinkles sachet contains a multi-micronutrient formula that prevents anemia, rickets and other diseases. We met Choe Sung-Mi when she came to the Hyean Clinic in Munchon to receive Sprinkles for her six-month-old daughter Han Ryo-Rim. Mrs. Choe was anemic when she was pregnant. She shared that after receiving Sprinkles her anemia and skin both improved.
Day 5: Nampo
The Nampo Foodstuff Factory supplies soymilk to nearly 14,000 children in daycares, kindergartens and orphanages. The soybeans are soaked and then ground up before being cooked into soymilk.
The Nampo Foodstuff Factory uses energy-efficient First Steps’ VitaCows to make the soymilk each day. The VitaCow is powered by electricity and can produce 40 -45 litres of soymilk per hour. In this photo the cooked soymilk pours into a stainless-steel milkcan.
One of the beneficiaries of the soymilk produced at the Nampo Foodstuff Factory is the Nampo Kindergarten Orphanage. The children enjoy their soymilk - right to the very last drop!
Cleaning up after finishing the day's soymilk production at the Hanggu Daycare and Kindergarten Supply Centre in Nampo. The centre uses both the VitaCow, which runs on electricity and the VitaGoat, which runs on biomass fuels (such as coal, wood or dried corn cobs.) Mr. Yon (left) told us that the VitaCow and VitaGoat machines that First Steps sent work well and produce good soymilk.
Consistent provision of nutritious soymilk is important for the children who receive it.
“The children love the soymilk. It’s good for their health and good that they get it every day.”
- Director Han Nam-Suk of the Hanggu Daycare and Kindergarten Supply Centre in Nampo
Mr. Yong with his soymilk delivery bike in front of the Hanggu Daycare and Kindergarten Supply Centre in Nampo
Day 6: Hyongjesan
Before drinking their soymilk the children at the Sopo #2 Mobom Daycare in Hyongjesan sing and dance to the soymilk song.
Due to a lack of electricity, the workers at the Sopo #2 Mobom Daycare must grind soybeans by hand to make the soymilk for the children
“Thank you so much for sending the beans to help the children grow. Thank you a lot. It ensures they get the protein they need.”
- Director Ri at the Sopo #2 Mobom Daycare
Whispers and giggles at the Sopo #1 Kindergarten in Hyongjesan
Doctors, mothers and children at the Shinmi clinic were excited to be receiving First Steps Sprinkles for the first time. One doctor said, “I don’t know how to express my thanks.”
Bak Hyang-Mi and her seven-month old son Kim Won-Ung.
Won-Ung will receive Sprinkles until he is two years old.
Choe Yun-Mi reads an informational brochure on micronutrient Sprinkles at the Shinmi Clinic.
Mrs. Choe stands with her two-month-old son Kim Ui-Ryong.
Patients sitting outside the Shinmi Clinic.
Four-year-old Shin Na-Re and her grandma, Ri Yon-Ok were two of the happy faces greeting us outside when we arrived at the Shinmi Clinic.