UPDATE 3 (2011-12-6): Accoridng to the Associated Press, six Americans from the Fuller Center are returning to the site to continue construction (just as the winter begins):
A group of Americans is in North Korea to kick off a project to build 50 homes for families working at a tree farm outside Pyongyang.
Six volunteers affiliated with the Fuller Center for Housing arrived Tuesday. Their trip comes at a time of improving relations between the U.S. and North Korea.
The 50-unit project will house the families of workers at a tree nursery in Osan-ri.
Participants with the nonprofit Fuller Center say they’ll be working side by side with North Koreans to build the homes.
They’re aiming to finish three homes this week, and other volunteers are expected to arrive in coming months to help complete the project.
In Americus, Georgia, Fuller Center President David Snell called the project a “true mission of peace.”
The United States and North Korea fought on opposite sides of the Korean War and do not have diplomatic relations. Diplomats from the two countries recently held talks about resuming six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
Below is the most recent Google Earth image of the Fuller Center’s Osan-ri project dated (2011-5-3):
I have tagged the facility on WikiMapia and you can see it here. The satellite image shows that some progress has been made since the last photo was published in September 2010 (below).
UPDATE 2 (2011-7-13): Google Earth released new imagery of this area today (July 13). The imagery is dated 2010-9-14, and it shows quite a bit of progress on the Fuller Center’s project:
UPDATE 1 (2010-3-28): Radio Free Asia has reported (in Korean) that the development of the Fuller Center’s housing project in Osan-ri has been delayed.
After running the story through Google Translate it appears that the delay is due to bureaucratic hurdles with getting resources from China into the DPRK (please correct me if I am wrong).
Satellite imagery from March 2010 (Google Earth) shows that the project has been launched, but it has moved from its initial location to the east (just a tad):
A reader named “Bobby” wrote in, however, and told me the following:
The Google Translate version is a little wack but that’s pretty much what happened. The Korean version says that David Snell was originally going to buy the construction materials in China and deliver them directly to North Korea by truck but because there is too much to move they have to ship it by train. The delivery has been delayed because shipping it by train requires a lot of extra paperwork and customs obstacles. The workers can’t get visas until the materials arrive safely so they aren’t even able to enter the country yet.
(Also, I think you accidently blocked my name for commenting before.)
ORIGINAL POST (2009-12-18): The Fuller Center for Housing is a religious organization based in Atlanta, Georgia (USA) which seeks to provide adequate shelter across the globe. The Fuller Center’s mission statement can be found here.
On November 11, the Fuller Center broke ground on their new project in the DPRK. According to Global Atlanta:
With help from U.S. volunteers, the Americus-based Fuller Center for Housing will work with the North Korean government to construct a 50-unit complex in a small farming community outside the capital city of Pyongyang.
The project will help alleviate a housing shortage caused by a 2006 typhoon that destroyed some 30,000 homes across the country.
North Korea is providing land, labor and heavy equipment for the project, a community of duplexes designed with a variety of measures to boost energy efficiency.
For example, the homes will have a wall of windows on the front. Facing south will allow in the most possible sunlight, reducing the use of electricity to light the homes, said David Snell, the Fuller center’s president.
The Paektusan Academy of Architecture, a government agency responsible for developing much of modern Pyongyang’s cityscape, designed the complex and will manage construction.
The two-bedroom, one-bathroom floor plans include a living room, dining room and an animal shed with multiple stalls on the back of the house. An upper-level attic space is designated as a “greenhouse” on a design posted on the Fuller center Web site.
The center is raising money for the homes from U.S. and European donors. Construction is slated to start in the spring, and the center will begin sending teams of six to eight American volunteers next summer.
Despite many Americans’ negative perceptions of North Korea, the center has started receiving volunteer applications before even officially opening the process, Mr. Snell said.
“The fact that it’s been a forbidden kingdom for all these years adds to the intrigue,” he told GlobalAtlanta.
Mr. Snell, who traveled to North Korea for the third time in the last 18 months to attend the groundbreaking, added that the center’s main mission is to build houses, but it often ends up bridging cultural divides in the conflict-ridden areas where it works.
“Absence of peace seems to be a common thread, so we’re starting to wonder if maybe we have a peacemaking component to our mission,” said Mr. Snell, who stopped in the Philippines and Peru to kick-start projects on his way home from North Korea.
Mr. Snell hopes to have an impact on relations between the U.S. and North Korea at a grassroots level. The nations are currently at odds over a raft of diplomatic issues, most notably North Korea’s evolving nuclear weapons program and belligerent antics on the international stage that befuddle American policy makers.
Such political differences won’t heal until people trust each other, and the housing project will give both countries’ citizens a chance to meet and work together for common good, Mr. Snell said.
“We all demonize our enemies, but I’m finding the Korean people to be just like you and me. We chuckle and laugh and tell stories, and they have the same aspirations for a better life and for peace,” Mr. Snell said. “This notion that we’re bringing peace is shared notion.”
The entire project has so far been an exercise in building trust. The idea came from Don Mosley, who heads Jubilee Partners, a refugee resettlement organization outside of Athens, and Han Park, an international affairs professor at the University of Georgia who has become a trusted unofficial liaison between the two countries.