Arriving in DPRK for the first time from Cambodia, WFP staffer Leang Hay Uk gives a first-hand account of his visit to a kindergarten in Rinsan County, in the northern part of the country.**
NORTH HWANGHAE PROVINCE - My first trip outside Pyongyang was to Rinsan County. As part of my job to assess the impact of WFP’s nutritional assistance in the country, I had to visit a kindergarten and see the children.
This was my first visit to the countryside, and as you can imagine, I was brimming with questions when I finally arrived at my destination. Most of all, I was curious to find out what a normal day was like for the kindergartners.
The children were sleeping when I arrived. Taking advantage of the downtime, I took the opportunity to talk to the director about the kindergarten. I was surprised to find out that nearly 100 children, aged five to six years, stay at the kindergarten, day and night. Their parents are busy farming the fields so they only see them three times a month.
On the day of my visit, I saw about 90 children. Two of them were described as ‘weak children’, which means their nutritional status is poor, thus making them look ‘weak’ and stunted. Malnutrition in young children is widespread in much of DPRK, and stunting can have long-term negative effects on intellectual and physical development, so WFP is particularly worried about these children. WFP's programmes in DPRK focus on providing specialized food to address the nutritional needs of young children and their mothers.
The director described a regular day for the children. It starts early –they’re out of bed at 6:30am and have breakfast by 7:00am. This is followed by physical exercises, and then three hours of lessons on subjects such as painting, history, Korean language and sports. Around noon it’s lunch time and that’s when the children are served rice, kimchi (Korean cabbage) and soup. The kindergarten has its own machines to process Super Cereal – a special blended food that has been fortified with important micronutrients – and the maize it receives from WFP. Often, the Super Cereal is mixed with maize and made into a nutritious porridge or noodles, served for breakfast and lunch. After lunch, it’s nap time and when the children wake up, they snack on WFP’s nutritious biscuits so that they have plenty of energy for playtime and singing lessons. After the children shower in the evening, they eat dinner, which usually consists of soup and rice. Then they play until the lights go out at 9:00pm.
Seven people were taking care of the children at the kindergarten I visited, including the director, a maintenance man and two cooks, who also tend to the kitchen garden. A local doctor comes by to visit and check the health of the children once a month.
It was very interesting to learn about the daily life of the children at the kindergarten. It gave me such an insight on how WFP food assistance is making a difference in the lives of the vulnerable.
WFP is facing serious funding shortfalls for its operations in DPRK, and has been forced to significantly reduce rations of specialized nutritious foods to women and children. New donations are urgently required to avoid a disruption of the programme, especially considering the lead time of several months needed to get food into the country.
**Staff from WFP operations around the world regularly visit the WFP Country Office in DPRK to exchange learnings and best practices on how to address food insecurity in different contexts.