My Church Sponsors a Noodle Factory in North Korea. Do You Think That's a Good Way to Help North Koreans?
Perhaps God has put North Korea on your heart but you are confused about the best way to help. Here are some questions we frequently receive at VOM Korea, along with our most heartfelt and deeply researched guidance in response.
First, we praise God for your church’s remembrance of our brothers and sisters in North Korea. Your question shows that you may have some concern about whether humanitarian aid is the best way to help. That’s a legitimate concern in our view. It’s noteworthy that North Korean defectors in South Korea uniformly speak against humanitarian aid projects to North Korea. Remember: they have relatives and friends in North Korea who may even be starving, and yet they advise against projects like noodle factories. Why?
Their concern is multifaceted. Years ago, donors worried that the food might actually be diverted to the military. Typically that is not the problem. The problem is that food projects aid regions of the country and individuals considered loyal to the North Korean government. When loyalty to the state is a test for receiving aid, food aid can be manipulated by the government to further its aims rather than to alleviate real need.
A similar concern frequently voiced by NK defectors in South Korea is that food aid programs free up money for the NK government to use in ways that ultimately work to the detriment of North Korean citizens, for example, weapons tests and government propaganda.
Supporters of aid projects often say, “Even with these problems, the aid is important because without it North Koreans would die.” This tends to assume that aid is available to all, and it tends to overlook that the food shortage in North Korea is a question of state funding priorities rather than a shortage of money.
When it comes to aiding North Korea, our advice always is: Ask those who know it best—those who used to live there. Their opposition to aid programs is a powerful and rarely heard voice in the ongoing conversation.
Do you have other questions about how to provide real help to North Korean people? Write us and we’ll be happy to reply!