First Steps got started soon after Susan Ritchie came face-to-face with the desperate human need in North Korea in the fall of 2000 when she traveled extensively there as the interpreter for a Canadian fact-finding delegation.
After returning to Vancouver, Susan vowed to do something. With the help of church friends, she started First Steps, which became a registered charity in 2001.
Initial fundraising resulted in a container of Pablum being sent to an orphanage and pediatric hospital in Kangdong county in late 2001. Since 2003, First Steps has focused on sending in VitaCow and VitaGoat machines. Developed by Ottawa-based Malnutrition Matters, they work like highly energy-efficient pressure cookers that process soybeans into nutrient-rich soymilk. Each machine can provide a cup of nutrient-rich soymilk for up to 2,000 children daily. First Steps has 52 electrically-powered VitaCows and 36 fuel-powered VitaGoats in operation there (October 2013), serving a total of more than 100,000 children in orphanages, daycares, and kindergartens.
First Steps introduced its Sprinkles program to North Korea in the spring of 2007. Sprinkles is the revolutionary micro-nutrient developed by Dr. Stanley Zlotkin at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. It comes in a single-serving sachet that is “sprinkled” on food. It combats anemia in women, as well as many childhood afflictions associated with malnutrition.
In co-operation with North Korea’s Institute of Child Nutrition, First Steps has so far (Nov. 2009) purchased 5 million sachets of Sprinkles, which are being distributed to 37,000 pregnant and nursing women, as well as 35,000 infants and toddlers. Following a two-year efficacy study conducted in conjunction with North Korea’s Institute of Child Nutrition, First Steps is now working with ICN to establish Sprinkles as a national program.
A girl smiles after finishing her soymilk May, 2005.
Photo: Kelly Sheehan
Soybean bag says “for the bright future of North Korean children” November, 2009.
Photo: Sammy Ross
A box of Sprinkles sachets for babies November, 2010.
Photo: Craig Ketchum
Susan joins the soymilk time with the happy children in Wonsan October, 2007.
Photo: Mark Pearson