Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 9th 2015 Contents A38
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, July 9, 2015
PYONGYANG---In a country with zero kinder-
gartens specifically for the deaf, Robert Grund
wants to help establish the first---just a small
suite of rooms for perhaps a couple dozen
kids, in North Korea s capital, Pyongyang, a
city of roughly 2.5 million.
It s a small step, but Grund, the Pyongyang
representative of the World Federation of the
Deaf and the city s only full-time deaf foreign
resident, sees it as part of a larger push to end
isolation for the deaf here by helping them be
heard, involved and empowered in projects
He appears to be making progress.
Over the past few years, North Korean officials
have grown more receptive to helping the dis-
abled. Events have become more frequent and
get a higher profile in the state-run media, while
more cultural exchanges are being allowed
abroad. Recent media stories played up a new
all-deaf soccer team. The North last month
held high-profile events to mark Disabled Per-
The kindergarten project is also coming
Grund says officials have approved a location
for the facility, several rooms in a now under-
used nursery building, and appear keen on
opening it in time for the 70th anniversary of
the founding of the country s ruling party on
The kindergarten itself will be wholly paid
for and funded by TOGETHER-Hamhung, a
German non-profit Disabled Persons Organi-
The plan is to accept children from infancy
on up until they are old enough to attend regular
deaf schools. Grund hopes access will be based
solely on need, but he is not sure whether the
government will instead decide who gets to go.
"From our point of view, every deaf child has
access," he said.
"Since this country strongly advertises the
right of children to be in nurseries and kinder-
gartens, it is probably not so much a matter of
choosing, but a matter of information and
spreading the word so that the families get to
know the new option and dare to bring their
deaf child, overcoming the traditional hiding in
To be deaf in North Korea is to endure a level
of isolation that is hard to imagine.
For most of his childhood, Ri Jong Hyok was
a shut in.
While his father went out to do construction
work, he stayed at home in Pyongyang helping
his mother make tofu. He didn t go to school.
He had no friends and, with no one to teach
him sign language, essentially no way to com-
municate with them even if he did.
"I had never seen sign language before I came
here," Ri told AP through a sign language inter-
preter during a visit to the country s largest
school for the deaf, in Songchon, outside of
Pyongyang, last year.
Ri is lucky to have found the school.
He wants to be a barber, and the school has
a classroom where the students practice cutting
each other s hair, with barber s chairs and pic-
tures of various hairstyles on the walls. With
few other trades open to the deaf, the most
common jobs are barber or tailor for men, and
hairstylist or seamstress for women.
Of the eight schools for older deaf children
in North Korea, none are located in Pyongyang,
though statistically the deaf population in a city
the same size in a developing country would
likely be in the tens of thousands.
There are roughly 300,000 deaf people in all
of North Korea, according to official estimates.
But while about 10-20 per cent of deaf chil-
dren in developing countries are able to study
in deaf schools, according to the World Fed-
eration of the Deaf, that rate is just 2 per cent
in North Korea, said an aid worker who spoke
on condition of anonymity because of worries
that ongoing projects might be hurt.
Grund, possibly more than anyone else, has
helped influence the change in attitudes toward
the deaf here. Though funding is always a strug-
gle, he has received support from Catholic and
Protestant groups and private donors, mainly
in Germany. One priority is more schools for
occupational training and educational oppor-
tunities for the deaf. Another is teaching more
deaf children---and interpreters---how to sign.
He also wants sign language interpretation made
available at workplaces and meetings. But most
of all, he wants to see signing on national tel-
evision broadcasts, if just to raise awareness in
the hearing community that the deaf exist and
need not be hidden away.
"That has been my oldest dream, from the
time I first came here," he said. (AP)
German seeks to break barriers in North Korea
Making noise for the deaf
Robert Grund, Pyongyang representative of
the World Federation of the Deaf and the
city's only full-time deaf foreign resident,
communicates through the use of sign
language during an interview in Pyongyang,
North Korea. AP PHOTO
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