American builds schools in North Korea

Featured Korea - March 21st, 2013

North Korea’s regime have long condemned the United States as their “arch-enemy”, but one American has broken through the stigma to earn local trust.

Philanthropist and former diplomat Christopher Carpenter, 73, has been funding the construction of schools in the country’s far-off province since 2008 through his Switzerland-based charity, the Foundation for Microprojects in Vietnam-DPRK.

“It wasn’t really my idea. The North Koreans contacted me out of the blue by e-mail in 2007,” Carpenter told AFP.

In February 2008, his French colleague Catherine Bertrand, a retired UN representative, visited the impoverished country to survey the situation. There she found a school on the verge of collapse with on-going classes in sub-freezing temperatures.

“The kids were so cold they couldn’t move,” Bertrand said.

Since then, the foundation has built six middle schools, each for around 300 students, and has three more under construction, AFP reports.

Carpenter and Bertrand inspect all sites before and after the schools are built and pay no more than $40,00 per project, with the state usually pitching in around $25,000, according to AFP.

Children in the school he funds are openly taught propaganda but Carpenter stressed “they also study other subjects like English, math … and art”.

“You know it will be filled with children and teachers … for propaganda,” Bertrand said, but “to teach propaganda, you have to teach them first how to read, write and count”.

While they still have to request permission for every move the make, the pair describe the affability of North Koreans they work with.

North Korea’s hardline communist regime has prioritized its nuclear programme and military over providing basic necessities, such as food and education. North Korea has relied on food aid amid chronic food insecurity.