GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 351 July 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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Recruit Women as Officials Instead of Incompetent Men
Ministry of Education Orders No More Field Days
Despite Ministry of Education’s Order, North Hamgyong Provincial Party Enforces Field Day
What Do Children Do When They Miss School?
“School? I Should Be Earning Money for Corn.”
“It was a shock to see a fellow luggage carrier die of starvation.”
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Recruit Women as Officials Instead of Incompetent Men
A Central Party policy calling for "Recruiting women as the Nation's officials and train many women to become Party secretaries and managers of province, city, county, factory, enterprise" is handed down. Since it was mentioned on January 20 for the first time it was repeated four times until February. The provinces as well as the Central Party and the ministries under the Cabinet are not exceptions. It was urged that incompetent men should be either fired or reduced and recruit women between the ages of 25 and 35 who were discharged from the military or party members who graduated from college or professional school as officials. As such, the Party took it up as one of the main policies to be implemented, and initiated the "Recruitment and Training of Women as the Nation's Officials" project since February.

In case of North Hamgyong Province 13 women who were discharged from the military and joined the Party with college degrees were recruited and assigned to Party positions. The Provincial People's Council of North Hamgyong Province also newly appointed 15 of them as the directors, associate directors, and members, and the City and County Party also assigned women at the director level administrative positions. In case of Hoeryong City a large number of women were appointed as officials including the head of the kitchen equipment factory, factory manager, and Party secretary. The Central Party made a statement on the policy of recruiting women as officials that "For the past few years the problems of officials abusing their power and position and misappropriate government resources as well as exploiting citizens for personal gain in disregard of the society and the collective well being of people were pervasive." As such, it is expected that the problems would be ameliorated as they assign women who are familiar with people's living conditions in place of male officials who are incompetent and preoccupied with personal gains.

Ministry of Education Orders No More Field Days
On May 9, Ministry of Education announced, “Schools should no longer have any spring field day.” This announcement was made to reduce the financial burden on parents as many of them are suffering financially after the currency reform. Furthermore, it appears that a spring field day will be difficult to hold as the student attendance rate dropped by more than half due to growing number of starving households.

The party of the North Hamgyong Province visited elementary and middle schools to assess student attendance in Songpyong and Ranam districts of Chungjin and realized that student attendance rates were less than half. Ordinarily, a class usually has 30-35 students, but currently most classes have only 10 -12 students. Because many parents cannot feed their children or afford to pay extra 2,000 won a month as non-tax burden, they stopped sending their children to school. Parents are saying, “What’s the use of education when we have a miserable life? They do not need to study.” Because the authorities blame teachers for the low attendance rate, teachers wander the markets or visit parents’ homes to avoid the criticism. While they try at first to coax the parents into sending their children school, it often escalates into an argument. Ae-kyoung Jung (alias), who is a middle school teacher at Pohang district complains, “It is really difficult to visit all the parents of students who miss school. I need to sell noodles at the market after school to support my family, but I waste so much time meeting parents.” Jung’s colleague was severely criticized for saying that he could not meet the parents. This occurrence is not unique to Chungjin but a common occurrence across the country.

Despite Ministry of Education’s Order, North Hamgyong Provincial Party Enforces Field Day
The Ministry of Education had sent out directives to discontinue field day, but it was discovered that some of the schools were still having field days. On the surface, their reasons have been that they did not want to disappoint the children who have been anticipating the event. However, the real reason for continuing field day activities is because it is a chance to receive money and food. For field day, some well-off families treat teachers with various kinds of food, cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages, while others go as far as to slip 1,000 to 5,000 NKW. Consequently amongst teachers, field day has now become a day of making extra money and they happily await the arrival of field day. The North Hamgyong Provincial party announced that “elementary schools should hold their field days on May 15th”, violating the Ministry of Education’s orders. Thus, on May 15th, elementary schools of North Hamgyong Province simultaneously carried out their field day activities by abiding by the provincial party’s orders. On the day before field day, the marketplace benefitted from this event, showing that a lot of eggs, pork, snacks, and other groceries were sold. However, this year’s event was a flop compared to last year’s due to the drastic decrease in participants and students leaving for home after morning activities for lunch. At Eunjung Elementary School located in Ranam, a region located in the city of Chungjin, some students were fortunate enough to bring gourmet lunches such as rice, bean sprouts, spinach, meat, rice cake, and twisted bread sticks, all of which are rare treats. However, all of this was not enough to feed even one-third of the student body. At the teacher’s discretion, some students shared with less fortunate students, but this was not the case for most classrooms that day. Students who could not pack lunches went home early and this was reported to the principal later, which led to many teachers being criticized for their lack of judgment and irresponsibility for not distributing the food amongst the class. At the end of the day, teachers who did not distribute the lunches stayed behind to listen to lectures.

What Do Children Do When They Miss School?
What do children who miss school due to poor living conditions do with their time? Children who are old enough to take care of themselves search for food. During this time of the year the growth of herbs and plants is abundant, so they go to the mountains and fields to collect edible plants. Middle school students are more active about earning money. In Pyongsung and Soonchun in the South Pyongan Province, many middle school students get paid working as bicycle cabbies. Of course, this is possible only if they have a bike, but once they are able to ride a bike, they work diligently. Because the pay increases depending on the distance, many students try to find customers with longer distances.

Many children trying to earn money are also seen at train stations. When the train arrives, they approach the passengers, offering to transport their luggage. They want to carry the passengers’ luggage and earn a little bit of money. Children with carts busily look for customers alongside adults doing the same business. It is likely that these children do not earn much, but they say they have no intention of going back to school. They say they cannot concentrate in class on empty stomachs. They also do not like being compared to rich children, so it is much better to work and get something to eat rather than to sit in class.

So why do children mostly work in the luggage carrier business? When the passengers get off the train, they need luggage carriers because there are no other forms of transportation. Furthermore, children are cheaper and more trustworthy than adults. The adult carriers do not like the children because they have to compete with children for work. Consequently, there is discord between children and adult workers who try to drive them away. However, children are able to get some work when the train is carrying a large number of passengers.

“School? I Should Be Earning Money for Corn.”
A teenager who works at Hamheung train station in South Hamgyong Province complained that luggage carrier work using cart has not been paying well. The decline in the number of merchant travelers following the 2009 currency revaluation is the main reason for the lack of work. Chul-hwan Kim (alias), completed the second year of middle school before dropping out last spring. He said, “Last year, I would sometimes earn up to 20,000 won a day (before the currency revaluation). I used to make at least 8,000 won a day, but since all merchants have gone bankrupt, people who ride trains or carry heavy luggage have become scarce.” He admitted that his pay is not enough to buy 1 kg of rice and said that 3,000 won is considered a lot these days. Despite the hardship, Kim smiled, saying that if he works all day, he makes enough money to buy 1 kg of corn. At times like this, a person who can afford to eat corn noodles it is considered fortunate.

When asked if he wanted to go back to school, Kim said no without hesitation, explaining that his mother’s food peddling business is nowhere near sufficient to sustain their household. He said he was lucky to be established in the luggage carrier business because he had dropped out of school early. Kids who dropped out this spring have not been able to find a way to earn income.

“It was a shock to see a fellow luggage carrier die of starvation.”
Jung-hyuk Cho (alias), who seeks work at the Shinsungchun train station in Sungchun County, South Pyongan Province, is 16 years old. He dropped out of school last winter and took on a job as a luggage carrier when his father grew very ill. Although his job was inherited from his father, he said he is having a difficult time because there is not enough business. Most of the time, he waits aimlessly for a customer at the train station, and when he is lucky enough to get a customer, the distance is too short to make adequate amount of money. But Cho, who eats nothing but watery corn gruel, doubted he would have enough energy to handle a long distance customer even if he encountered one. Other luggage carriers waiting at the station are not faring any better. Most lie down while waiting because they do not have much energy.

Cho talked about Mr. Kim, who also worked as a luggage porter. Kim, who had not eaten for two days straight, was seen lying down in the luggage cart. Cho initially thought Kim was resting, but it turns out that he was dead. Cho said he was completely shocked to witness an incident that he had only heard about before. Because Kim was a good friend of his father, Cho said he was very hesitant to tell his ill father about Kim's fate. Although the Shinsungchun train station has a large number of travelers, the luggage carrier job does not provide an adequate living, and everyone spends their days in desperation, he said.

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