A former member of the Rimbey Christian Reformed Church is making a difference in the lives of thousands of children every day, half a world away.
Hanna Visser, who grew up in the community, is currently working for First Steps, a humanitarian organization that fights child malnutrition internationally and in this case, it’s in North Korea.
“I’m actually not living in North Korea. For foreigners to live there, you have to be a diplomat or an ambassador, or United Nations, UNICEF, that sort of thing. I’m based in Vancouver now, and I travel in and out of the country,” Visser said during a recent stop in Rimbey.
She said there is currently a massive hunger problem in North Korea but thanks to her and her supporters, First Steps is feeding over 50,000 children a day – most of whom are orphans. The problem however, is that not enough news of the problem has reached the western world.
“It is a very, very closed country. When I first started going to North Korea four years ago, there was only two flights a week from Beijing, China, so not a lot of travel in between,” Visser said. “There’s not a lot of information that travels into the country – they have one newspaper, one radio station and one television station and they’re all state controlled, so they don’t hear a lot about the outside world.”
She was quick to add however, that while the population of North Korea may be facing some very difficult times, she found the people to be very warm and friendly.
“We get a lot of negative press about North Korea here in the west, but the fact of the matter is a lot of the people there that I meet and have relationships with are wonderful people and they have a great sense of humour,” Visser said. “I’ve made a lot of really good friends there.”
To combat starvation among children, First Steps – a Christian humanitarian organization, utilizes machines called Vitacows and Vitagoats which process soy beans into soymilk. One cup of soymilk per day provides a child with all the required protein they need.
A type of pressure cooker, the Vitacows and Vitagoats can operate with or without electricity and are capable of feeding between 1,000 and 1,600 children every day.
“Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the economy of North Korea has gone in a downward spiral,” Visser said. “In the 1990s one-tenth of the population died of starvation – so over one million people died of starvation, and we didn’t hear anything about it in the west. So what we are trying to do in First Steps is attempt to fight malnutrition in the children there.”
Currently, Visser said First Steps operates 17 Vitacows and 14 Vitagoats.
“As an example of how the Rimbey community has already been involved in this significant endeavour, the Rimbey Christian Reformed Church has bought two of these machines, which provides approximately 2,500 children a day with a cup of nutritious soymilk,” she added.
Visser said if any member of the public, or a church group is interested in helping the children of one of the poorest countries on Earth, they could purchase one of the machines for approximately $3,5000, and can contact her through the Rimbey Christian Reformed Church for more details.