North Korea: A rare peek at daily lifeThat the majority North Koreans suffer from hunger and a declining standard of living is no secret. But because of the country’s isolation, what life is like for the 22 million people living under the rule of Kim Jong-il and a few thousand of his fellow elites has for decades been something of a mystery.
In recent months, the flow of photographs and video footage to outside world showing how common North Koreans are living and coping has increased. Taking photos is often barred by authorities. Documentary images are smuggled out of the country often at great personal risk.
Representatives from foreign non-governmental aid agencies are among those who have had the greatest access to North Korea. The photographs on this page were taken by staffers from one such aid organization.
What they reveal are routine activities engaged in by almost any society. Here are North Koreans at school, in factories, at clinics, at a food center and even apparently finding time for leisure.
But no matter how mundane these pursuits might be, there is a fascination how North Koreans go about them.
The grimness and uniformity of daily life in Pyongyang and in provincial areas is clear from the photographs. But perhaps surprising are the smiles on some faces. The people shown are those who have benefited from the care and generosity of international aid agencies.
Somewhat deeper is the insight the photos provide into the productivity and work life shown in the shots of factories in Pyongyang where children’s clothes and canvas shoes are produced. Aid agencies support the workers by buying the products and then giving them away to the needy.
More positive are the expressions on the faces of children cared for by the charities. The full faces of primary school students in Rakwon County in South Hamgyong province betray no sign of the misery believed commonplace in North Korea. The toddlers at a daycare center in Pongson seem anything but hopeless.
by Charles D. Sherman