Friday, November 16, 2007

Alex Kay's adventures in Mongolia

Alex Kay went to Mongolia with Concordia International Volunteers in August 2007

Kids Camp Mongolia

I spent the last two weeks of August volunteering at the Khangait summer camp for the orphans of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. I joined a truly international group, with volunteers hailing from South Korea, Holland, France, Spain, Singapore and the USA. We headed north out of Ulaanbaatar and into the surrounding countryside where the majority of homes are simple but practical ger tents. After a two hour drive we reached the summer camp. It consisted of several small wooden buildings which were set on the lower slopes of a beautiful forested valley, only now seeing the first signs of settlement around the dirt road that winds along the valley floor.

As soon as we assembled the group of volunteers got along very well everyone could speak some English and we were all in our early twenties, or at least behaved like it!

After drawing up a timetable of activities and projects on the first night we spent as much time with the orphans as our energy levels could cope with. Meanwhile, three less fortunate volunteers were the cooking and cleaning team for the day.

We organised a myriad of games and activities for the children. There were frequent games of football, volleyball and basketball, English and Korean lessons, art workshops, mini Olympics and even a disco one night.

Mongolian kids have this fantastic, insatiable competitive spirit and many of the best activities were those where the children were split into their four ‘house’ groups and competed for small prizes.

After our first week we had two days off and the in-country coordinator organised a trip for those interested, to journey into the vast, open expanses of Mongolia’s central aimags. Seven of us took up the opportunity while others went for some well earned rest back in the capital. We had a fantastic time staying with a nomadic family in their guest ger and whilst there we journeyed to the nearby ancient Mongolian capital Kharkorum and got to ride the family’s group of horses.

When we returned the blistering summer heat had contributed to an enormous forest fire which was gradually expanding down the slopes on the opposite side of the valley towards the summer camp. After an uneasy night where a watch was organised in case we had to evacuate, the rain came and extinguished the fires within 3km of our camp!

I felt our main goal was to make sure the kids had a fun, active and educational summer camp but other members were keen to improve the facilities at the camp and during our two weeks we built several benches from logs collected in the forest and concreted over a slope to improve drainage in order to protect against landslides around one of the accommodation blocks.

Most of us had brought art and craft supplies, sports equipment and clothes for the kids. We also pooled some money together to buy fresh fruit which we gave out most evenings. Several other groups who visited the camp for an afternoon or during our days off had brought sweets for the orphans which they enjoy, but receive so often that their teeth suffer.

During the second week my specialty became the construction of paper aeroplanes that the younger kids soon had me producing in every spare minute I had. Throughout the week the air was filled with squadrons of planes soaring around the camp! Fortunately, a few kids had learnt the folding technique in the final few days and I hope they will be able to enjoy creating planes for the rest of their childhoods!

I had a brilliant time volunteering and I would love to go back and help at the camp again, to check on the kid’s progress as they grow up and meet more volunteers from across the globe.

By Alex Kay

Click here for pictures of projects in Mongolia

Click here for a country profile of Mongolia