(CNN) — North Koreans born 20 years ago during the great famine are too young to remember when a time of mass starvation and hundreds of thousands of deaths.
Jang Jong-hwa doesn’t remember the mother and father she lost. The 20-year-old is part of a generation of orphans now young adults, born during the 1990s humanitarian crisis North Korea calls “the arduous march.”
A family with three children of their own took her in. “My adoptive mother was so kind to me,” she said — a kindness she’s trying to repay by caring for a houseful of orphans, while also working full-time for the state.
“It’s a tough job looking after all of these kids,” Jang said. “It’s been two years now.”
Jang gets help from family, friends and neighbors. She began taking in orphans when she was 18, just out of secondary school. Now, she cares for seven.
She shows laptops sent by the state for the kids to study with, but doesn’t have batteries to turn them on.
The family, including all 7 orphans, live in standard government housing, sharing a one-bathroom apartment in a working class neighborhood, 45 minutes west of Pyongyang.
The oldest orphan, Jong Un-jong, is 16. Her parents died working in a state-owned steel mill. The other workers took turns caring for her, her brother and sister, until Jang brought them home.
Jong said “at first, she was like my older sister, because she’s only 4 years older than me. But now, I call her my mother.”
She and her sister say they want to join the army to serve Kim Jong-un and their younger brother wants to play soccer.
All of them said they consider their leader their father, something that’s heard everywhere in North Korea.
The Jong family will soon be moving into a new, larger home. It’s a gift from the state as a reward for their service and loyalty.