Canadian Who Became 'Mother' to N.Korean Orphans

    December 08, 2008 10:10

    First Steps founding director Susan Ritchie explains her charity's activities in North Korea while showing a picture taken in a factory she visited there.
    Poor nutrition means that North Korean children are on average 20 cm shorter and 10 kg lighter than their South Korean counterparts, according to Susan Ritchie, the founding director of the Canadian children's charity First Steps. Ritchie (47) was in Seoul last Wednesday at the invitation of the Korea Green Foundation, which is celebrating its sixth anniversary and running a campaign to plant trees in North Korea together with the Canadian Embassy.

    Established in 2001 and with some 1,000 members in Canada, Fist Steps has been providing soymilk and nutrients to over 70,000 children in North Korea. Ritchie's ties with Korea started in 1972 when her family moved to Seoul because her father was a missionary. She finished high school in South Korea before moved back to Canada but returned in 1996 and studied at the Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation at Ewha Womans University.

    In 2000, she went to North Korea as an interpreter for the Canadian government when it was about to establish diplomatic ties with North Korea. There she recalls seeing many children who could barely walk because of malnutrition and rachitis.

    A year later she set up the First Steps. With the donations she raised, she began sending baby food to North Korea and has since been visiting North Korea three to four times a year to inspect health conditions of children in an orphanage. "Children who couldn't even smile because they had no energy are now playing football and call me mother," she says. "They chat a lot too. If we can provide food and plant trees at the same time, the future of North Korean children will be much brighter."

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