North Korean Aid Demands
- Thousands of used but clean shirts, pants and other clothes are stacked in big heaps in warehouses outside Seoul to be sent to poverty-stricken North Korea.
But they can't be sent as they are, because North Korean officials want to get them their way: all without English writing on them and their size no bigger than "large."
"In addition, we have color restrictions," Ahn Jeong-hui, director of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, the donor of the clothes and other relief goods. "Strong colors could easily repulse North Koreans."
After years of dealing with North Korea, South Korean donors have learned that helping the communist country is not just about sending large quantities of supplies. It requires certain "customization,"
"The maximum size of clothes we send to North Korea is 'large,'" said Hyun Il-hyun, secretary at Join Together Society, another South Korean relief agency, "We know anything bigger, like 'extra large' or 'extra extra large,' won't fit North Koreans."
"What will fit elementary school kids in South Korea will usually fit North Korean middle-schoolers," she said. "Most North Korean adults will fit well into what South Korean teenagers wear."
Chronic food shortages and malnutrition have stunted many North Koreans, making some look like dwarfs. Television footage broadcast in South Korea showed gaunt North Koreans scouring winter fields for grains left by reapers.
A 2004 survey of 2,300 North Korean defectors showed that average North Korean men and women are 5.9 centimeter and 4.1 centimeters shorter than their South Korean counterparts, respectively. An average 14-year-old boy from North Korea is up to 15.8 centimeters shorter than the same-aged South Korean.
English-embellished clothes are not welcome, either, in North Korea, relief workers said.
"We pick out any clothing that has English writing on it," Hyun of Join Together Society said. "North Korean authorities apparently don't want their people to think the clothes are coming from their sworn enemy, the U.S. We also restrict clothes that have the names of South Korean organizations."