AKRON, Pa. - Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has collected more than 11,000 newborn kits for shipment to North Korea in February.
Individuals and church groups across Canada and the United States assembled the kits - which include clothing, diapers, soap and a receiving blanket - in fall and winter 2002.
Some people assembled the kits as an answer to Christ's call to love enemies, others as a tangible way to help people in need.
In August a mothers' group from Butler Mennonite Brethren Church, Fresno, Calif., put together 66 kits as a way to support other mothers of young children.
"It's important for us as moms to take care of our children," says group member Rhonda Dueck. "This gave us the ability to help other moms who don't even have what we consider to be basics. I can't imagine raising children without knowing about their next meal."
In nearby Kingsburg, Calif., MCC worker Kathy Heinrichs Wiest got her community involved in assembling the kits. In December Wiest set up a booth at her neighborhood's Christmas festival. For $20 U.S., customers could assemble a newborn kit with items that Wiest and her colleagues had already purchased.
In late February MCC will ship 11,000 newborn kits and 10,000 children's comforters from Seattle, Wash., and Vancouver, B.C., to North Korea, where partner agency Caritas, working through the Food Aid Liaison Unit, will distribute the items to mothers of infants and to orphanages.
In cooperation with these and other partners, MCC has sent substantial food and material resources to North Korea since 1995. Food shipments include canned meat, grain, dried peas and milk powder.
The famine that North Korea faced in the mid-1990s has reached a "fragile recovery," says Kathi Zellweger, a Caritas worker who oversees distribution of MCC aid in North Korea. Yet many North Koreans are still in dire straits.
"There are no supermarkets or shops where you can buy the supplies you need for your baby," Zellweger says. "Mothers have basically next to nothing, or [baby clothing] is handed down many times until it falls apart.
"Very often the recipients are amazed that people in North America care about them. It's very difficult for them to understand." North Koreans are told by their government that the United States is an enemy.
North Korea still relies heavily on international aid, and the needs of North Korean people go unmet. Many North Korean children and young people are physically and developmentally behind (compared to South Koreans of the same age) due to years of malnutrition.
Maria Linder-Hess is a writer for MCC Communications.
=A9 2002 Mennonite Central Committee
MCC, 21 South 12th Street, PO Box 500
Akron, PA 17501 tel: +1 (717) 859-1151 or toll free (888) 563-4676
MCC Canada, 134 Plaza Drive, Winnipeg, MB, R3T 5K9 tel: +1 (204) 261-6381 or toll free (888) 622-6337