8 Years before the organization TOGETHER-Hamhung was founded, Robert saw a TV interview. It was said that the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) had connections to all Deaf in all countries of the World except to the North Korea. It was like there were no deaf people. Robert couldn’t believe that. He was deaf in fourth generation und he was sure that there must be deaf people all around the world. So he wanted to go to North Korea and find deaf persons. However, he was only 15 years old at that time. His parents didn’t allow him to go and so he must wait.
When he was 18 years old, he went to the Embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in Berlin to get a visa. It still took a while but at the end he could manage to get a visa and so he finally took a flight to North Korea.
Unfortunately, when Robert was in North Korea, nobody wanted to answer his questions on the Deaf. But Robert was determined not to give up. He kept coming back to North Korea and kept asking for the Deaf. He searched for information everywhere.
In 2006, the moment finally had arrived when Robert met a deaf North Korean for the first time. The young deaf man was very surprised. He thought that deaf people would only exist in North Korea.
Robert was really persistent and that made an impression to the North Korean authority. That’s why they wanted him to come again. Robert should help them to improve the livelihoods for the Deaf in their country.
The North Koreans had a specific idea of how Robert could help them: They wanted to open a school in Hamhung. Hamhung is the second biggest city of North Korea. Deaf, blind and non-disabled children should learn together. That was a huge project and obviously would cost a lot of money. Actually Robert did not want to carry this much responsibility but the German Ambassador in Pyongyang, Thomas Schäfer, encouraged him to take on this challenge. The German Ambassador recommended to start with small projects first. Later, bigger projects might follow. Robert decided to take on the challenge.
Thereupon, Barbara suggested to found an organisation. The founding members named the organisation after the school that should be build up and then put the word TOGETHER in front of it because such a huge project can only be done when many people work TOGETHER. That’s why our organisation is called
"TOGETHER - Educational center for deaf, blind and non-disabled children Hamhung e.V.".
What happened after that:
Robert gave the WFD a report about his travels to North Korea. In May 2008, Robert travelled to North Korea again, this time as a special envoy of the WFD to build up communication ties between the Korean Federation for Protection of the Disabled (KFPD) and WFD. This was an important step. In February 2012, both WFD and KFPD signed an agreement on cooperation in the WFD office in Helsinki. In the following year, a representative WFD office was set up in Pyongyang.
According to the advice of the German Ambassador, we had started with small projects and then took one step after another within the meaning of our philosophy “Nothing About Us Without Us”.
We had virtually started from scratch when we decided to engage for deaf and blind North Korean people and we have already achieved a lot. With every project we learn a bit more about both disabilities and the situation in the country. This way we slowly approach the big school project. One day, we will open this school, and if you like, you may accompany and support us on this path.
© 2021 TOGETHER – Educational Centre for Deaf, Blind and Nondisabled Children Hamhung e.V.