Update on First Steps activities, by Susan Ritchie


[First Steps is a Vancouver-based Christian development organization whose primary purpose is preventing child malnutrition in North Korea through programs that provide essential nutrients to young children. Its founding director Susan Ritchie recently returned from a visit to the DPRK and sent us this report. For more on First Steps and Ms Ritchie, see the Chosun Ilbo article “Canadian Who Became ‘Mother’ to N.Korean Orphans”. –CanKor]

First Steps founding director Susan Ritchie explains her charity's activities in North Korea while showing a picture taken in a factory she visited there. (Photo by Chosun Ilbo)

First Steps founding director Susan Ritchie explains her charity’s activities in North Korea while showing a picture taken in a factory she visited there. (Photo by Chosun Ilbo)

First Steps currently has two programs. First Steps’ soymilk program is currently reaching more than 90,000 children with a daily cup of soymilk. The micro -nutrient Sprinkles program is reaching approx. 70,000 pregnant women and babies from 6 – 24 months. Sprinkles prevent anemia and reduce morbidity (for example, deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia as well as rickets, etc.). As in-kind donations are becoming more available we are increasingly able to engage in relief work when there is a need.

We are shipping 3 larger food processing units to Wonsan in the coming weeks and expect that the total number of FS soymilk beneficiaries will soon exceed 100,000 children. The FS soymilk plants are working exceptionally well in the cities, counties and farms where we work. The food processing equipment that we send is a good fit for NK. Last year we shipped 280 metric tonnes of soybeans to supplement the local supply. We currently have 75 tonnes of soys en route.

I mentioned Deokchon in our last newsletter. It’s a city of 250,000 people, almost all of whom are engaged in mining coal (400 metres underground) or relevant activities to feed the coal plant in Pyongyang. We first visited the area after they had suffered a landside that took 46 lives and left more than 8,000 people homeless last summer. We partnered with ShelterBox to send in tents and then we sent in a 20′ container of relief foods for the children. Last week we visited the city again to confirm the arrival of the food, etc.

We visited, daycares and kindergartens where some of the relief goods had been distributed. The kindergarten directors were over the moon with excitement about the shipment of Gleaner’s soup mix, canned meat, canned fruit, vegetable seeds, knitted goods, etc. that they received in late December.

First Steps was also officially invited to work in Doekchon. They are eager to have a soymilk program. At present, children under five are receiving half of the daily ration and kindergarten age children are receiving no ration of soymilk, since their soybean crop was destroyed last summer. We’d love to get a soymilk program started as the children are at high risk of acute malnutrition and it seems about 30 – 40% are chronically malnourished and stunted. So we’re hoping to reach 16,247 children up to age five and another 6,753 kindergarten age (6 and 7) children with soymilk.

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