Sowing the seeds of peace: a wonderful antidote to the ‘brouhaha’ of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un

Friends on this mailing list who do not subscribe to the Friend may be encouraged to do so by this gem by George Penaluna, a member of Skipton Meeting and advertisement manager of the Friend. Edited extract, with added links and photographs, from the 25th August issue:

In April, George was travelling to see friends, having visited South Korea several times since a year-long internship in the early 1980s

Cheorwon District, north-east of Seoul, is pretty much the geographical centre of the Korean peninsula and has great historical significance. The border cuts the district in half and Penaluna sees the division of Cheorwon as a metaphor for the division of families, of communities and the whole country. He continues:

“It is worth remembering that in Korean the name of the country is Hanguk, one interpretation of which is ‘one country’. For Korea to be cut in two at the behest of the allies at the end of the second world war, and to be still separated over seventy years later, is akin to twin siblings being forcibly kept apart”.

The Border Peace School is situated in Cheorwon. Its director, Ji Seok Jung, established the school with several objectives, but foremost among them was to educate and empower ordinary people to become peacemakers, sowing the seeds of peace.  Ji Seok, whose nickname is ‘Peace farmer’, did his PhD at Woodbrooke (Sunderland University which has a Centre for Quaker Studies).

The school leads a daily Peace Pilgrimage up nearby Soie Mountain, to meditate for peace and the reunification of the Korean peninsula. It is the site of some of the fiercest battles during the Korean war and until 2011 was still a military installation. A winding track is now adorned with peace sculptures (above, featured on another website in 2011 with relevant background information) and offers a panoramic view of North Korea.

Laid out before you, the first four miles or so of the DMZ is a controlled access area. The land is largely flat and consists of extensive rice paddies and small villages. The farmers have donated their surplus rice to North Korea in an act of solidarity and humanitarian aid, as North Korea often has severe food shortages.

The paddy fields contain battle scarred ruins and old train stations. On reaching the edge of the prohibited area, where no civilians are allowed to enter, you find a new Peace Plaza and Cultural Centre. The Cultural Centre also houses a classroom for the Border Peace School, where they run classes and seminars on peace and reunification, literally just a stone’s throw from the fortified barbed wire defences.

Beside the Cultural Centre is a three- or four-storey former military outlook post. It has now been converted from military use to become a bird and wildlife observation tower. The no-access area of the DMZ, free of human intervention for over sixty years, is now home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.

It was heartening to learn of these small steps towards peace and, equally, to learn that Il Yung Lee, a retired professor of psychiatry, had previously helped organise an annual seminar of North and South Korean medics in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Blocked by the South Korean government for the last four years, he was hopeful that the new Democratic Party government would allow the seminar to take place this year.

Building these links between ordinary people, sowing the seeds of peace, is a wonderful antidote to the ‘brouhaha’ of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.




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