As one of the founders of Habitat for Humanity, Comer’s Don Mosley has seen his share of ribbon cuttings.
Of course, none have been quite like the one in North Korea Wednesday, Nov. 11, when the Fuller Center for Housing and North Korea's Paektusan Academy of Architecture met to celebrate a planned 50-home development and self-sustaining community at Osan-Ri in the Sunan District near Pyongyang.
Mosley, who will lead work crews over in the spring to begin the project, recalled last week’s ceremony. After the dignitaries put their shovels down, Mosley wandered off into the crowd of North Korean farmers.
“I broke away from the group and went over to a group of 50 or 60 farmers, who lined up in rows, proper North Korean style, watching us,” said Mosley. “And this is in a country where the people of the country are forbidden from talking with foreigners. There has been such a wall between us for all these years.”
Mosley said Dr. Han Park, professor of political science at the University of Georgia and an advocate of improving relations between North Korea and the United States, walked over to the farmers, too. Park is known for helping negotiate the release of U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were held this year as prisoners by the North Korean government.
“Han speaks fluent Korean,” said Mosley. “That’s his first language. And they were laughing and joking. He’s a very funny guy, and they all started looking at me. And I said Han, ‘What are you saying to them?’”
Park said he asked the crowd how old they thought Mosley was, but they told him they couldn’t tell. But Park told them that Mosley is 70, and they didn’t believe it.
“Bless their hearts, they very seldom live to be 60 or 70 and they surely aren’t out climbing on ladders and building houses,” said Mosley. “By the time it was over, they were talking about how they were looking forward to us having a good time. And this is not what you would expect from the normal stereotype.”
Mosley and Park traveled to Pyongyang last week, along with David Snell and LeRoy Troyer, both of The Fuller Center for Housing, for the groundbreaking event.
Mosley, the director of Jubilee Partners in Comer, said last week’s visited culminated a three-year effort to get a housing project under way in North Korea.
Of course, a U.S. housing project in North Korea seems like an unlikely endeavor, considering that the country is led by dictator Kim Jong il, who has pursued nuclear weapons as many of the country’s citizens struggle to survive, with limited food and housing — a typhoon wiped out thousands of homes in the country in 2006.
But Mosley said the housing effort is part of a broader effort to promote peace.
“These are people (the North Koreans working on the housing project) we’ve come to know as individuals and friends, who are very strong in their search for opening up peaceful communications between North Korea and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and moving away from this arms race they have toyed with and toward a more peaceful coexistence,” said Mosley.
David Snell, the president of The Fuller Center, echoed that sentiment.
“We may not change international relations by this venture, but we will provide the opportunity for Koreans and Americans to come together for good and to get to know one another as fellow travelers and trusted friends,” said Snell.
Kim Sok Joon, president of the Paektusan Academy in North Korea, shared those feelings, too.
“By building these houses together with our American friends we will begin to build trust,” Joon told the Fuller Center. “By building trust we can begin to make peace.”