EAPRO DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Integrated early childhood care is changing mothers’ life in DPRK
“I quit my job 11 years ago when I had my first child, as I believed it was more important for me to be with my son. At birth, he weighed only 2,400 grams. He cried a lot when he was a baby and often had high fever and diarrhoea, which worried me very much. I thought I was not taking good care of him and that he was hungry because I did not have enough breastmilk. The doctor helped me cope with this difficult period and advised me how to take care of my son,” says Mrs. Ri Chun Son, a resident of Unryul county in South Hwanghae province.
Surrounded by her sons, Mrs. Ri Chun Son speaks to us smilingly of how her life has changed as a mother of two children. Her elder son Ri Guk Chon, 11, goes to the county primary school. He is in grade four and is the top of the class. The young Ri Guk Song, 5, will soon be going to kindergarten. Her husband works in a food administration office in the county town. A worrying family some years ago, they now are one of the 6,564 families in Unryul county benefiting from integrated services supported by UNICEF.
UNICEF began its work in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1985. In 2004, the programme moved towards more integrated assistance in seven pilot counties to reduce child malnutrition rates and improve the quality of life. UNICEF’s assistance includes primary health care and nutrition, including supply of medicines, vaccines, fortified food and multi-micronutrients for mothers and severely malnourished children; access to clean water and environmental sanitation; provision of textbooks to primary schools and rehabilitation of a limited number of primary schools and nurseries. As a result, schoolchildren are enjoying a better learning environment with new desks and chairs, clean water and appropriate sanitation facilities.
Clean water supply was brought into the home also, and is much appreciated by the family. “I used to walk a long distance to fetch water. I would carry 4-5 buckets of water a day. And this was enough just for cooking. To wash the clothes I had to go 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 to fetch water. This gives me time for household chores and to 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 as healthily as I had wished when they were born,” says Mrs. Ri Chun Son.
In 2005, UNICEF provided training to Unryul 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 Facts 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 mother and child care.
Mrs. Ri Chun Son believes that the healthy condition of her family is due to the doctors’ advice and to the child-care services provided at the nursery. “My young son is weighed monthly. I am told immediately if he has not gained weight. 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. This information is very useful.”
Had Mrs. Ri Chun Son been left alone in the upbringing of her children with no support from the community and had the government officials and community workers not provided appropriate knowledge and capacity, it is most likely that her children, like other children in the community, would have entered the vicious cycle of sickness and malnutrition which, in the long run, negatively impacts the development of the country. And Mrs. Ri Chun Son herself would not be the happy and confident mother she is today.
© UNICEF DPRK/2006/Ju Yong Chol