Wednesday, 4 August 2010

street kids in Ulaanbaatar

The population of Ulaanbaatar has increased dramatically in recent years as winters get harsher forcing erstwhile nomadic people to fix roots. There is a proliferation of ger camps on the outskirts of town. Mongolia is an emerging economy; many families in the camps have little to live on. Drug and alcohol abuse are prevalent in the camps. Many children are born unwanted or simply become undesirable as they get older. Others lose their parents. Others simply run away. There has been a mounting number of homeless children. A solution is being developed by an unlikely source.

The Metropolitan Police of Mongolia have bought a large house on the outskirts of the city. The house is for the exclusive use of orphaned street kids. A middle-aged doctor has given up her livelihood to focus on acting as matron to the forty or so children. The children are free to come and go as they please. Mostly, they seem to stay. The eldest child is 16, the youngest is 3. The house offers protection and a chance; no matter how small. These children have had it harder than any others I have come across. Poverty would be a luxury for some of them.

Set over three storeys the property contains two large dormitories; one for boys, one for girls. It has a large kitchen and dining area. The rest of the house is dominated by music and craft rooms. This may seem odd but the matron, assisted by local musicians, offers the children a chance to learn a musical instrument, sing in a choir, learn a craft or simply appreciate. I was privileged to be invited to this wonderful home for a day alongside the International Women's Association of Mongolia (IWAM), a charitable organisation, run by the delightfully energetic Mo, that is currently helping provide for the children.

When I arrived some of the older boys were hanging around outside looking far older and tougher than their ages warranted. I greeted them and went inside. They mostly ignored me. Inside I was given a tour of the home and several of the children played traditional Mongolian music or sang folk songs. There was some real talent amongst them. The ladies and I then offered to teach the children art, beadwork, juggling and writing.

I was on juggling duty together with the only other chap there. We had several sets of juggling bags with us for the children. After playing with some of the smaller kids one of the tough-guys from the front door came into the room. He was clearly keen to learn but was too cool for school. We eventually coaxed him to join us. Seeing the lad juggle killed me. As the bags flew from hand to hand years of solitude and harshness disappeared, if only for a while; a broad smile spread and relaxed across his tense face. He took the bags and disappeared to practice on his own; he laughed enthusiastically as he left the room. The other boys looked on astonished, this kid was not known for being happy. As we were leaving he hugged me and promised to learn five new tricks for my next visit. He didn't know if I was coming back, after meeting him and his friends it's impossible not to.

Mongolian of the day:- children :: khuukhed