experimental fields
Farmland in Chongsan-ri, between Nampo and Pyongyang. (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Universities in Hamhung were recently ordered by the government to send students to support nearby agricultural areas over a period of 25 days, a source in South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday.

“As a result, students arrived at their designated farms on the afternoon of May 14 and began work on May 15,” the source said.

Given the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, students with a fever were exempted from the order, while the rest of the students have been put to work on the farms as planned, he explained. 

As part of the mobilization order, the universities were told to come up with their own solutions to provide food to the students during the country’s “farm assistance period.”

The universities passed along the responsibility for arranging food and covering other living expenses to the students, who are already struggling to get by amid North Korea’s current economic troubles. That has left students frustrated, the source said.

The Hamhung University of Pharmacology, after deciding that participants will need 700g of food per day at the farms, ordered each student to provide 20kg of rice and pay KPW 100,000 to cover side dishes, he continued, noting that this amount of rice and money is a considerable hardship for students whose families are not well off.

A junior at the Hamhung University of Pharmacology surnamed Kim had already been thinking about quitting school because of hard times at home. After being ordered to fork over food and money for the farm work, Kim finally submitted paperwork to leave the university, the source said.

Another student at the university surnamed Lee confessed feeling guilty about asking his family to send more money. Lee’s parents had been subsisting on porridge so they could save enough money to pay his college expenses. Lee said that this abrupt demand for a big sum of money would force him to quit his studies.

In short, the financial burdens being exacted on students by the farm assistance program is driving students who were already struggling to stay afloat at college to simply give up on school.

Meanwhile, Hamhung’s universities have asked students who are unable to help out on the farms for health or personal reasons to pay USD 150 (around KPW 1 million) to help with paying for the meals of teachers during the farm assistance period, the source said.

“When the farm assistance period rolls around every year, universities expect students to cover the meals of teachers,” he said. “This year, as usual, students are being asked to provide food for the teaching staff, which places an even larger burden on them.” 

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.