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DL woman visits North Korea

An Oct. 9 nuclear test in North Korea made that tiny Asian nation the focus of a political firestorm.

United Nations Security Council sanctions were imposed. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was almost universally condemned for his actions in authorizing the bomb test.

But a Detroit Lakes resident who visited the country in October as part of a humanitarian delegation feels there is an even more pressing issue facing North Korea: Its people are near starvation.

"The atomic blast (in North Korea) was miniscule compared to Hiroshima," said Robin Adams, who lives near Frazee and works at First United Realty in Detroit Lakes. "It would take six or more years for them to develop into a potential (nuclear) threat."

Meanwhile, the threat of severe winter food and fuel shortages in North Korea is imminent. A shortfall in the country's cereal crop harvest, coupled with a suspension of food aid from South Korea since July (in the wake of North Korean missile tests conducted at that time), has left the country in need of at least one million tons in food imports to feed its hunger-stricken citizens, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

"Everybody is thin there," Adams noted. In her travels through the country from Oct. 14-21, she said the only domesticated animals she saw were "five very skinny cows and some geese (that may or may not have been tame)."

Adams was in North Korea as part of a contingent representing the Lighthouse Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian aid to North Koreans and other people in need worldwide.

Organized in May 2004, the Lighthouse Foundation was an outgrowth of the humanitarian efforts begun by Presbyterian missionary Sue Kinsler -- a longtime friend of Adams, who has spent much of her life in southeast Asia.

"Sue had first asked me if I'd like to go (to North Korea) about four years ago," Adams said. However, the timing wasn't right. But Kinsler approached her again this summer, and this time, Adams said yes.

"I really felt strongly that I wanted to go and hug the kids (in one of the orphanages that Kinsler's organization serves)," Adams said. "I also wanted to support Sue in her work, and to build relationships with as many of the North Korean people as I could."

Adams also came bearing a special gift: A $1,500 donation from her home congregation at Harvest Fellowship Church.

Kinsler's work, meanwhile, was to continue her efforts to establish a new Disabled Center in PyongYang that would run workshops where disabled people could be employed according to their trained profession.

The new center would also house storefronts where the newly-trained could start up their own business in dressmaking, hairstyling, tailoring or a similar profession.

The goal, Adams added, is for the disabled in that country to eventually be able to support themselves.

Kinsler was also in North Korea to make sure that the bread and soy milk processing facilities the Lighthouse Foundation had helped to establish were receiving adequate supplies to keep running.

Even with these facilities up and running, however, each child in the orphanages served by the Lighthouse Foundation is currently receiving just one cup of soy milk and one bread bun per day -- the youngest orphans receive two buns because malnourishment in a child's earliest stages of development can lead to health problems in later life.

Though there has been much anti-U.S. propaganda proliferated by the North Korean government, Adams said she "never felt fear" during her week-long visit to the country, and "never felt any animosity from the people there."

Outside of their traveling party, however, Adams said she encountered few native North Koreans.

"Asia is kind of my home," she explained, noting that she had lived more than half her life there, including 20 years in Japan and before that, 13 years in Korea.

Adams is hopeful that recent face-to-face talks between U.S. and North Korean negotiators on "crunch" issues could bring a "ray of hope" for the possible end of sanctions against North Korea.

If some sort of accord is reached, Adams added, that could greatly aid in facilitating the start of long-stalled disarmament talks involving the countries of North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S.

"If they could work things out diplomatically, it would save a lot of people," she said. "They need lots of wisdom, on both sides."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454