SEOUL, July 1 (UPI) — North Korea recently opened its first kindergarten for hearing-impaired children outside Pyongyang.
The school, which opened in April, was established with support from a German NGO, a Catholic charity group and private donors, Voice of America reported Friday.
The founder of German group Together Hamhung, Robert Grund, told VOA there were just three children enrolled at the school when it opened, but the number of students has since risen to 20.
According to the Together Hamhung website, there are eight schools for the deaf and three schools for the blind in North Korea.
Children who are hard-of-hearing or have low vision attend regular schools that don’t offer special assistance, the group said in its statement.
The schools for the deaf and the blind are boarding schools, but according to Together Hamhung “old cultural patterns” in North Korea lead to families “hiding disabled children.”
Grund, who is the fourth generation of a deaf family, said he first heard of North Korea when he was 15 while watching a German television program featuring the World Federation of the Deaf.
The program suggested there are no deaf people in North Korea, which he found to be incredible, according to the statement on his website.
Grund was eventually granted permission to visit North Korea in 2006.
The building for the school houses 10 classrooms that seat up to 40 students.
Debra Russell, president of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters, told VOA after visiting the site she saw classrooms that were well maintained and teachers proactively engaging their students.
North Korea has between 300,000 and 350,000 people who are registered as hearing impaired.