One nation’s children: obese here, starving there

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One nation’s children: obese here, starving there

“Eighty percent of human brain tissue matures within two years from birth. Therefore, suffering from malnutrition in this period may impede a child’s mental and physical growth ,” says Hong Chang-eui, an honorary professor at Seoul National University.
“If we help North Korean children now, 10 to 20 years after the two Koreas presumably reunify, we would have a society where North and South Korean children would walk side-by-side without any height difference,” Mr. Hong adds.
Mr. Hong is an adviser at Okedongmu, or “North and South Korean Children Arm in Arm,” a private corporation. Okedongmu is in charge of establishing the Pyeongyang Children’s Nutrition Improvement Center, scheduled to open in September.
Mr. Hong asked the public to take more interest in the center since the institution is designed to relieve the pain of North Korean children who suffer from malnutrition.
Mr. Hong visited Pyeongyang last February as a delegate of Okedongmu to discuss the establishment of the nutrition center.
The nutrition center consists of a hospital with a diarrhea clinic, examination room, dental clinic and a playroom, as well as a soy milk factory. All together, the center covers about 6,000 square meters (64,583 square feet). Okedongmu provided the construction materials, equipment, medical supplies and technology.
Mr. Hong pointed out that malnutrition increases the overall mortality rate. Because malnutrition weakens the immune system, a minor infection could become deadly.
Mr. Hong has asked for donations even from those who disapprove of aid for North Koreans. “Where on earth can you see two countries of the same nationality, where there is an overweight problem on one side, while the other dies of hunger?” Mr. Hong asks.
“Even Ronald Reagan aided hungry people in Ethiopia under a communist regime during his presidency. He convinced the opposition by saying, ‘A hungry child knows no politics.’”
Mr. Hong’s hometown is Hwangju, Hwanghae province, in North Korea. Before the emancipation from Japanese occupation, he left Hwangju alone, and he still has no clues as to the whereabouts of his family. Although he applied for the North and South Korean family reunion program, there has been no contact so far.
“I still have a vivid image of the low mountains that surrounded my hometown, the church where the townspeople met to worship and the village entrance where my mother used to bid me farewell. I hope I can go back to my hometown before I die, but I’m not sure if it will happen.”
After Mr. Hong became a professor, he led student volunteer activities for 20 years. In 1988, Mr. Hong retired from Seoul National University and worked as a pediatrician at Seoul Asan Medical Center for 10 years. Mr. Hong also participated in the foundation of the Humanitarian Doctors’ Council in 1987, working as a director and an adviser there.
To help Okedongmu, call (02) 743-7941, or e-mail nschild@okedongmu.or.kr.


by Ha Jae-sik

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