You'd most likely never think North Korea would make the list of countries where parents would send their kids for summer. But it has and apparently, it is a lot of fun.
The Songdowon International Children’s Camp in Wonsan purports to help young foreigners, many from communist countries, interact with the isolated country. Each year, the camp attracts more than 300 kids from China, Russia, Mongolia, Ireland, Vietnam and Tanzania.
This is not your average camp. The opening ceremony is much like the Olympics, with children wearing their countries’ colors and waving their flags, as they form a celebratory procession. The swimming pool has water slides and rooms come equipped with video game consoles.
It’s also very cheap. The Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League, the main youth organization in North Korea, subsidizes the camp costs, which ends up around only $300 per head for a week of fun. However, these amenities are available to only rich parents who can afford to pay and not to the thousands of impoverished children who live in appalling conditions in the country.
Gourmet food from a diverse range of cuisines is provided to the attendants to feast on — a harsh contrast to the World Food Program reports that claim the food security in the country is deteriorating due to an ever increasing food gap. The most recent report generated in April stated DPRK’s children do not have enough diversity in their diet and consume “25 percent less protein and 30 percent less fat than required for a healthy life.” As a result, one in three children younger than 5 years of age and almost half the children aged between 1 and 2 years are anemic.
But just to remind the children that they are in North Korea, huge bronze statues of former leader Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are placed on the campgrounds.
The curriculum centers around Korean songs about Kim Jong-un and North Korean former leaders. Kids learn not just Korean but attend ideological classes which include topics like the "Revolutionary Activities of the Beloved and Respected Marshal Kim Jong-un" and the Korean War in which Americans are described as barbaric.
The curriculum has the desired effect on campers and they have nothing but nice things to say about the country and its people.
“I’ve learned a bit of Korean and more about their country and what their leader has done for them,” adds Chimbelu Muyangwa, a student from Tanzania who attended in 2015. “I admire them because of their motto, which says, ‘We have nothing to envy in the world,’ and for sure, they don’t. They taught me that you should be patriotic and not be jealous of other countries.”
Tchalewa Ndeki, a teacher from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, said he used to think North Koreans would be “strange kids that wouldn’t want to mingle with our kids.” But he changed his opinion quickly enough after he arrived and saw they were “so friendly, taking selfies together and singing together.”
As for North Korean children, perhaps meeting people from international countries might be a good thing for them, because without them, there is little hope they will be able to learn anything about the outside world.