Thursday, March 07, 2013

George Rhee: Building Bakeries in North Korea

Vol. I, No. 7

George Rhee has a very unusual dream. In fact, George Rhee has a very unusual story.

George Rhee (courtesy George Rhee)
George comes by way of North Korea. His father was born in the North in 1923, and escaped to the South in 1950 when the Korean War began. In 1958, when George came along, the Rhee family was so poor that eventually they had to orphan George for a year just so he could have a meal. Unfortunately, the orphanage wasn't faring much better. Oftentimes it didn't even have food to serve any meals at all. So it wasn't long before George suffered severe malnutrition, and he was sent to the hospital. It was there at the hospital that George's life changed - forever.

While in the hospital, George met some missionaries. One thing led to another, and soon he was studying theology. In 1990, he went to London, was granted British citizenship, and had a son of his own. And then he got to thinking. About paying a visit to North Korea.

Of course, North Korea is a difficult place to get to. But George had a British passport, and so he was granted approval to travel there. And in 2001, he arrived in his father's country. It was there that George saw a simple need: to feed the orphaned children. And he got to thinking. About orphans. About his father's past in North Korea. About...baking.

George's dream, he realized, was to open bakeries to feed the orphans in North Korea. So, that's just what George did.

"Happy eyes after meal" from George's website
I know, I know; the mind boggles, right? A South Korean man from a North Korean family decides to open bakeries for orphans in the most secluded country on the planet?

Well, every journey begins with a single step, and George's first step was to register a charity once he returned to the U.K. Then he got working on the particulars of opening bakeries. In February 2006, sourcing his ingredients from China and his workers locally in North Korea, he opened his first bakery. Then he opened two more. At that point, he was handing out ten thousand slices of bread - every single day. And all of it was free.

Flour delivery (courtesy George's website)

It wasn't easy though. In order to pursue his dream, George had to be away from his family two to three months at a time every year. When I asked George if there was anything easy in this whole process, I should have expected the answer I got. "I feel that nothing is easy," George says. And to his credit, I suppose nothing is. Not when your dream is this unusual, when you're tucking into the likes of North Korea. To bake. For orphans.

George feeding the orphans (courtesy George's website)

By now, George has opened dozens of bakeries. He's saved countless lives. He's fed thousands of children, and employed scores of North Koreans. You too might like to give George a hand. He needs it.

To read more about George's bakeries and clinics, click here:
To donate to George's charity, click here.
To read about George's next dream, click here.

My 2009 visit to Pyongyang, North Korea 

This post is dedicated to George Chatzopoulos, another unforgettable George who lived an unforgettable life. 


MET said...

Incredible story!! Amazing what you do in sharing it... Good luck George!

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