Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Discovering Mongolia working with children - Summer 2006

Mongolia isn’t traditionally a place that springs to mind when you consider other locations in the World. When people say they are traveling to Asia invariably Thailand, China or Japan spring to mind, so, when I said I was traveling to Mongolia with 12 strangers for 2 weeks there were looks of surprise, shock & bewilderment evident on the faces of family and friends.

Being an inexperienced traveler, having only stepped foot in North America and Europe prior to my trip, I would say that my determination to get this one under my belt was significant.

I knew that I wanted to do something a little different and volunteering appealed; I discovered Concordia thanks to Google. Then I found the problem of having so many fantastic projects to choose from. Working with children sounded like it suited me, having spent lots of time with children (having an 8 year old sister largely contributing to this), so I selected the kid’s camp project and chose Mongolia because of its mystery to me and it so different from anywhere I had visited before.

Prior to departure, the planning, the budgeting, and the expectations all seemed overwhelming. The preparation weekend was very useful for reassuring me and it widened my horizons, in addition to stamping out any apprehensions. Hence, I was purely excited on departure.

I got to visit Beijing en route as I had a stopover there, which was a real bonus as it has a lot to offer and is such a memorable city.

On arrival in Mongolia you are instantaneously met with the most priceless scenery you could imagine, miles of green and views that could easily have been transposed onto film by studios eager to find the perfect view for a shot. At the camp the older kids carried our bags (an immediate illustration of the kindness of the children that I was to become struck by) as we took in the surroundings of evergreen trees & spanning mountains as far as could be seen. Behind us the scattering of wooden huts on the hill which would be our station for the next 2 weeks.

Evidently we did not have the creature comforts; the toilets became bearable and the lack of running water was no problem when we had a river a short walk away and a gas stove to boil water on. These things really were not priority as we got immersed into the project after bonding with the children very quickly. Each day the volunteers would organize activities for the kids, who ranged from ages 2 to 12, such as arts and crafts, fashion shows, mini-Olympic games and volleyball tournaments. This was between free time, which we would all choose to spend with the kids anyway.

Most of the kids were orphans so I expected them to be sad and withdrawn, not animated and full of fun as they all were. We were not expecting that they would offer us so much love, and not want a single thing in return.

(The kids in the project are having fun with a cake!!)

Although many of the kids did not speak English, we managed to communicate with them effectively through games and having fun, we all got our messages across. Some of the older kids could speak a bit of English so it was good to get to know them a bit better.

The volunteers had the opportunity to see a different part of the country over 2 days in the middle of the project. We stayed in a desert area with a Mongolian family in a ger tent, what an experience. This really was sampling the culture as closely as anyone could hope to. We also visited Buddhist temples, drank horse milk and saw goats being milked; all symbols of Mongolia.

Traveling after the project came highly recommended from some of my fellow volunteers, who were lucky to do so. There are beautiful lakes to be seen, hot springs and national parks.

To me, this work camp did not feel like work, instead it felt more like I had been privileged to be in this unspoilt country and to spend time with these children who were free from all negative aspects of modern cultures, such as greed.

It was so hard to leave behind the completely compelling and tremendously rewarding time that I had had.

There is a website about the children, with photos, at www.theirfuture.net. Please take a look.

(Katie Blampied, Mongolia 2005)

Click here for pictures of projects in Mongolia

Click here for a country profile of Mongolia

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