Saturday, February 28, 2015

North Korea Trip Update From Mrs Simpson

Mrs Simpson with SFS patient medicine boxes at Dongdaewon, North Korea
Before going to North Korea, it was hard not to have expectations. Despite it being the most closed country on the planet, I had read enough articles, watched enough Ted Talks, and heard enough stories to have a certain picture of what this place was going to be. I expected a barren landscape, a tragic hollow-eyed populace, and an air of oppression and desperation to hang like a thick fog everywhere we went. 

As is true with most situations of expectations vs. reality, some of my experiences upheld the image I had created in my mind and some of what I saw changed my perspective of North Korea.

I found the landscape to be quite beautiful. The rolling hills were carpeted with trees and bushes, fish swam in the rivers and lakes, and, as I was there in April, flower buds were appearing all over the countryside.  

Cars, while not abundant, were present on the streets of Pyongyang. Our “minders” were our constant company but typically quite pleasant in their interactions with us. I expected to be afraid while I was up there but truthfully, I felt safe.

In the same way, the population both confirmed my expectations and surprised me. The hollow eyes that I saw belonged to people who were waiting. They had been sick for a long time, years for most of them. They had taken several rounds of tuberculosis medication only to be told each time what their continually worsening health had already told them. The regular medicine wasn’t working. 

And so these people made the difficult decision to leave their families behind and make their way to one of the Eugene Bell multiple drug resistant tuberculosis clinics to find out if they had MDR-TB and to see if they could be treated there. And so there they sat. Waiting to find out if they had a future.

I also saw eyes full of hope. The eyes of the patients who had successfully completed the 18-month treatment and were finally cured of MDR-TB looked into my eyes as I placed colorful crane necklaces on their necks. 

Tuberculosis had nearly taken everything from them but they were given a new chance at life. They were headed home to see sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and loved ones that they hadn’t seen in months as they stayed at the clinic in an attempt to keep from spreading the disease. And for the first time in literally years, they were actually healthy. Hope shone from their eyes as the reality set in that they had been given a future.

This is why we do what we do.  Every effort, big and small, helps to change a life. It helps to change eyes from hollow to hopeful. It gives people a chance at a future. Thanks for everything that you do to make this difference. Thanks for doing something that matters

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