The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Deaf delegates’ first visit to counterpart in Helsinki, Finland

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A group of deaf Koreans from Pyongyang, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), arrived in Helsinki on Thursday 4th November 2014 on a week-long visit to the WFD Secretariat Office and the Finnish Deaf Association. The convoy was accompanied by staff members of the Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled (KFPD), and Chairman of the Sign Language Interpreters’ Association of Korea. The group was led by Mr. Robert R. Grund, WFD Liaison Officer of the WFD Representative Office to Pyongyang. This highly significant visit marks the first time that the deaf Koreans have ever been granted passports and travelled outside the country.

The main objective of this trip was the consolidation of mutually benefiting dialogues and exchange of experiences and views, which aims to strengthen the expanding co-operation between the WFD and the National Association of the Deaf of Korea. This symbolic partnership is recognised through the ratification of the Memorandum of Understanding that took place in Helsinki (February 2012), which was also approved by the DPRK Government (December 2012). Following that, the 4-Year Action Plan (4YAP) was conceived and subsequently approved at the WFD Board Meeting in Geneva (November 2012).

During their visit, the delegates received welcome and briefings by various WFD representatives including WFD Honorary Presidents Dr. Liisa Kauppinen and Dr. Markku Jokinen, WFD President Colin Allen (via Skype from Australia), and members of the WFD Secretariat. Mrs Liz Scott Gibson, Honorary President of the World Association of the Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI), exchanged her experiences and acknowledged the recent establishment (March 2014) of the Republic’s interpreter association.

The group also visited the Finnish Ministry for International Development and was welcomed by Mrs. Sirpa Paatero, the Minister for International Development of Finland, who underlined the importance of support for the empowerment of deaf people as a part of the civil society in the DPR of Korea.

The German Federal Foreign Affairs Office was also pleased to see that this trip activity is in full compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in accordance with the slogan of the international disability movement NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US. They expressed interest in further promotion of deaf activities in North Korea.

Other visits included the Finnish Association of the Deaf (FAD), the Helsinki Deaf Association, the Finnish Deaf Youth Association, the Sign Language Interpreters’ Training Centre, the Institute of Sign Language of the Turku University, the Department of Sign Language at the YLE Finnish Broadcasting, and the Deaf School in Turku.
Through these visits, the delegates were in many ways impressed and inspired by the newly gained knowledge. This first overseas trip also naturally meant that the deaf participants needed time to understand the deaf developments and way of life led by deaf people in Finland. This acquired knowledge is crucial and will assist them in developing ideas on how to further progress on the deaf work in North Korea taking account the unique Korean Culture and lifestyle.

Mr. Robert R. Grund was pleased with the outcome of the trip praising it to exceed beyond expectations. The invaluable support by various ministries and agencies including the German Federal Foreign Office, German DPO “TOGETHER-Educational Center for Deaf, Blind and Nondisabled Children Hamhung e.V.”, the Finnish Association of the Deaf (FAD), two Members of the German Parliament, and the German Airlines LUFTHANSA, were instrumental to the success of this first trip.

The WFD would like to acknowledge the support received for this memorable trip and reaffirm the working relationship with the KFPD in hope to find further areas of cooperation that mutually benefit both parties.