Unlike most project experiences, I began mine feeling very tired. Prior to my arrival to the project, I had already spent 3 days in Moscow, travelled to Mongolia for 5 days on the Tran Siberian train and went on a 3 day trip to the countryside (which I thoroughly recommend). So I was slightly drained of energy but intrigued to see how the next two weeks would pan out.
My first day of the project was quite relaxed. With an early start, I left my hostel and was picked up by the manager of MCE (Mongolian Workcamps Exchange). We arrived at an apartment block with children’s climbing frames and play sets scattered around. I was then introduced to the supervisor of the project and he took me to our apartment, where I was pleasantly greeted by the rest of the volunteers. There were 2 girls from France, a girl from South Korea and a guy from Hong Kong. The apartment wasn’t fully furnished but was equipped with the essentials, such as a kitchen, bathroom and 2 living areas, which we slept in. We also had a sofa bed and a TV that occasionally played badly dubbed episodes of Lost.
After our quick introductions we went to visit the first part of the project, a children’s orphanage. As soon as we entered the building, we were surrounded by knee-high kids welcoming us and grabbing us by the hand. We were taken to a classroom where a group of hyper and energetic 8-12 year olds waited for us. I realised this was the class we’d be spending time with for the next two weeks. The kids spoke little English, some more than others, but we were able to communicate quite well and had a very entertaining meet and greet session where we were exposed to some of the talents of the children.
(Above: Asha, bottom right, with the other volunteers and their supervisor "K" at the orphanage)
After a play session and personal tour around the rooms of the orphanage, we made our way to the second part of the workcamp, a secondary school. As we entered the classroom, the students were already sat down at their desks and surprisingly in uniform (well, partially). There were mainly girls at the age of 14-16 years old. They were more laid back than the kids at the orphanage but still excited to meet us and full of enthusiasm. We divided ourselves around the class and got to know the students in more detail. I was quite amazed at the variation in the levels of English in the class. While many children spoke good English, some were at same level as the younger kids we met at the orphanage.
Before the project, I hadn’t planned anything in the way of lesson plans and activities for the children in either group, because I didn’t know what to expect. I was very open to see who we’d be teaching and at what level. Each day before class, we would discuss and brainstorm ideas for the next lesson. We decided that each session would have a different focus, for example grammar, punctuation, vocabulary etc. Then we would always end class with a game of charades or hangman. At the orphanage, our sessions were less structured and we mainly organised lots of arts and craft activities. We also helped with the cleaning on the weekends, which the entire orphanage (120ish) took part in.
(Above: volunteers with the children at the orphanage)
Through this experience, I have met some great friends and been exposed to a beautiful country that I hope I will return to in the near future.
Asha-Jennings-Grant, Volunteer in Mongolia, 2010