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UNICEF and WHO respond to measles outbreak in DPRK

Interview with UNICEF DPRK Representative

My life has changed

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My life has changed

Unruyl County, DPR Korea
© UNICEF/DPRK/Ju Yong Chol
Mrs. Ri Chun Son's family is one of the 6,564 families in Unryul County benefiting from integrated services supported by UNICEF

by Tharnkamol Suvilaisunthorn

“I quit my job eleven years ago when I had my first child. I still enjoyed working at that time, but I believed it was more important for me to be with my son. At birth he weighed only 2,400 grams. As a baby he cried a lot and always had high fever and diarrhea, which worried me very much. I thought I had not taken good care of him. I thought he cried because he was hungry and because I did not have enough breast milk to feed him. But the doctor helped me cope with this difficult period and advised me how to take care of my son”, said Mrs. Ri Chun Son, a resident of Unryul County in South Hwanghae Province.

Mrs. Ri Chun Son, surrounded by her sons, Ri Guk Chon and Ri Guk Song, spoke to us smilingly at her house of how her life has changed as a mother of two children. The elder, Ri Guk Chon, eleven years old, goes to the county primary school. He is now in fourth grade and is the top of the class. The young Ri Guk Song, aged five, will be going to kindergarten next semester. Her husband is working with a food administration office in the county town. Transformed from a worrying family some years ago, they now turn to be one of the 6,564 families in Unryul County benefiting from integrated services supported by UNICEF.

UNICEF began its work in DPRK in 1985. Beginning 2004, the programme has moved towards more integrated assistance in seven pilot counties with an aim to reduce child malnutrition rate and ensure improved quality of life. The services include primary health and nutrition care, such as provision of medicines, immunizations, fortified food and multi-micronutrients to mothers and severely malnourished children, provision of clean water supply and environmental sanitation, provision of text books to primary schools and limited number of primary school and nursery rehabilitation. Children in school are now enjoying a better learning environment with new desks and chairs, clean water supply and appropriate sanitation.

Clean water supply has been brought in to home also, and that was much appreciated by the family. “I used to have to walk sometimes to fetch water from a distance. I carried 4-5 buckets of water a day from there. And this was enough just for cooking. For washing clothes I went to the streams, also far from home. Now, my life has changed. I have tap water in my house and it runs for almost 20 hours a day. I don’t have to walk very far to fetch water again. This gives me time to do household chores and take care of my children.
However, raising children properly is really a hard work for a mother. I am very happy to see that my children are growing up as healthily as I had wished for when they were born.”

Mrs. Pak Sun Hui, Programme Coordinator, Unryul People’s Committee, herself a mother of a 7-year old child, recalled how she and other county officials had learned that mother’s health and knowledge is an important factor for the growth and development of her children. “A woman needs to take care of herself even before pregnancy so that her child will be borne healthily. At the health clinic all pregnant mothers are given multi-micronutrient tablets. Young women receive iron/folic acid too.”

Unryul county, DPR Korea
© UNICEF/DPRK/Ju Yong Chol
Water is not a scarcity any more for Mrs. Ri Chun Son and her family

In 2005, UNICEF trained Unruyl county officials and members of the Korean Democratic Women’s Union on the concept of integrated early childhood care and development and also distributed the Korean Family Book, an adaptation of the “Fact for Life”, which contains important messages on key child caring practices. The information has been widely disseminated by national and local authorities to the families, doctors, and caregivers residing in the county, increasing their knowledge on the ways by which children and mother should be taken care of.

For Mrs. Ri Chun Son, she attributes her healthy family condition to the doctors’ advice and the child care services provided at the nursery. “My young son is weighed monthly at the nursery. I am told immediately if he does not gain weight in that month. We parents are in close contact with the caregivers at the nursery and that is how we can keep our children healthy. I have also seen the information in a book which tells me how to take care of my children. I think the information is very useful.”

Would it make a difference in Mrs. Ri Chun Son’s and her children’s way of living had she been alone in the upbringing of the children with neither proper knowledge herself nor support from the community? Would it make a difference if the government officials and community workers had not been provided sufficient knowledge and capacity? Probably yes, and most likely her children, as do other children in the community, will remain in the vicious cycle of sickness and malnutrition, which will negatively impact the country development in the long run. And Mrs. Ri Chun Son herself will not appear a happy and confident mother as she is now today.

updated: October 2006

 

 
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