Lessons in Humanity from North Korea

Air Media Magazine, Summer 2014
By Bill Palmer, CAFS, AeroMed, Inc.

lessonsinhumanity_photoWe never really know where our careers in air filtration will take us! A few months ago I received a phone call asking if I would be willing to go to North Korea to help with some filtration and ventilation issues in a tuberculosis lab. After getting some information on the job and on the parties involved I agreed to go.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little bit of fear and trepidation regarding the pending trip. I realized though that the level of concern that I was feeling was nothing compared to that of my friends for me. Their most common initial response was, “You’re going where? Are you crazy”? Due to the ongoing tensions between the US and North Korea my friends were all worried for my safety and couldn’t understand why I would take this risk.

I went to North Korea with a faith-based, not for profit organization called Christian Friends of Korea (www.CFK.org) . Due to restrictions on religion in Korea they are not allowed to overtly spread their faith. They are, allowed, though to live out their faith by performing acts of charity and compassion among the people there. These acts include disaster relief in response to floods, building greenhouses to increase food stores for those in hospitals, drilling wells where there is no running water, renovating health care facilities so they may provide better care, and providing training for healthcare and laboratory staff to help combat an alarming TB epidemic. All of these are essential needs for the people being served.

I’m not certain what I expected from the people in the laboratories or hospitals where I would be working. Would they be rigid, unfeeling and strict? Would they be suspicious of us and our motivations? Would they be resentful towards us? Would I be at risk, should I feel scared? It seems normal to give into fears when we are dealing with unknowns in life, especially when they are tainted by the opinions of others.

When I met and started to work with the staff in the facilities there, I realized that these were intelligent, fun, sensitive, down-to-earth, grateful, wonderful people. They had some legitimate and sometimes dire needs with which we could help. They rolled up their sleeves and worked side by side with us, with great spirit and enthusiasm!

When my time there was finished I had installed some HEPA equipment, measured ventilation, evaluated systems and made recommendations. So what was it that I learned?

I realized that people should not be defined by the conflict between their governments. Often we become so focused on governments that we lose sight of the individuals under them. We forget about the value of each human life within a society, we forget how precious other people are! Let’s not only help those with whom we feel comfortable with, or those who can love us back, or those who can do something for us. Perhaps if we each learn this lesson and apply it at home and beyond, the world would be a better place. Let’s help our enemies, the needy, and the unlovable. When our goal is to help others and do right by them, there is really nothing to fear! This is how the world is healed!