Sunday, March 6, 2016

Spring 2015 North Korea Trip Report - Jo Bigwood

I had the privilege of going up to North Korea as the representative from Seoul Foreign School, with the Eugene Bell Foundation. Each year, our school has the opportunity to fundraise as part of our service component at school but also because it has been a long part of the history of SFS for North Korea. And of course they are our neighbors and for some -  our family. 

Since arriving at SFS, I have been part of the annual fundraising drive, selling t.shirts, food, participating in the fair, cooking schools, photography classes, swimathons, pantomimes, silent auctions, you name it we do it. Each year is different and apparently so are the biannual trips to North Korea, according to Father Gerard Hammond (a Catholic Priest, living in Korea and a regular delegate for Eugene Bell).

Each trip - although it has a fairly similar format,  a team (my case 15) meet for the first time at Gimpo, fly to Beijing. Overnights in Beijing whilst visas are processed, off to Pyongyang the next day hopefully with all 40 + bags intact and onboard. Arrive at hotel, meet hosts, rise the next day to check medicine has arrived by shipment, pack trucks and then the next 2 - 3 weeks are similar with visits off to each of the 12 clinics that Eugene Bell support, some as far as 4 - 5 hours away by van some 30 mins - 1 hr, admit new patients, weigh and track existing  patients and graduate patients after 18 months. Same routine but different, new faces, missing faces, healthier faces, graduating faces.

But for me, being my first time, everything was new. There were a lot of wow moments and connections which are not always easy to put into words … here are a couple of takeaways.

Small fish in a big pond …
I went with a certain amount of pride. I knew we worked hard every year to raise funds for the Eugene Bell foundation to purchase medicine and the fact that a person from SFS was able to go each year, made me think we were big fish. We contribute a lot ($55,000 - 70,000 annually, we must be one of their bigger donors). I hate to burst your bubble but NO, we are in fact a very small donor group. It costs $3 - 4 million US dollars to send up medicine twice a year.  We are small fish but in the bible ...
 Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were left over. 
It’s not about how big or small the offering is, it is about the heart behind it. He will multiply what needs to be multiplied and we are a part of that. So we need to keep doing what we are doing and he will take care of the rest. We are one of the few donors that is made up mainly of a school community here in Seoul. I was humbled and felt honored, that we at SFS, can not only partner with Eugene Bell but that there is a space carved out for one of our SFS teachers to go each year. What a privilege. 

Ms Bigwood with some of our SFS graduating patients!  

Each year I watched the inspiring and heartfelt videos created by Sarah Carpenter and each year I would cry a little, and think I am doing my small part. I knew we were being agents of change, by bringing life through the medicine (if you haven’t watched any of the videos, check them out on this blog). I saw through the videos,  the patients we supported, I saw the places, I saw what life might be like but until you have been I am not sure you really SEE. I got to SEE lives, young and old, poor and rich. I got to SEE lives changed, young and old, poor and rich.  I got to SEE lives living! I got to SEE where all our hard work fundraising goes.  I got to SEE HOPE. And that was life changing and life living!

Was it hard work?- Yes!  Was it sad? - Yes. But through it all I got to see that here at SFS we are life changers. I realize that not all of us can go and SEE what life we are bringing through the medicine to the people in North Korea but hopefully through the eyes of some of our teachers that go, you will SEE that you bring: LIFE and HOPE.  Thank you for all that you do to help save a life. Keep going because there are people across the border that know you and thank you.

Paper crane garlands, made by SFS students, ready for patient graduation!

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