Charlotte Gibbs - General Care Projects in Mongolia
Upon arrival in Mongolia, on the journey from Chinggis Khaan International Airport to the guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar, the first thing I noticed was the vastness of countryside and greenery. The air outside the city was incredibly fresh and cool.
It was quite surreal seeing horses just loose at the side of the road, but Mongolia is renowned for having a larger number of horses than population. The life outside of the city was considerably different from than in the centre – the nomadic families lived in Gers which look like huge circular tents but are warmer and far sturdier.
After about a thirty minute car journey into the city, past some of the countryside, I arrived at the guesthouse where I was greeted with a warm welcome, shown how to use the facilities and was provided with a detailed map so that I could explore the city. The flights were exhausting but that was not going to deter my desire to explore. What was most noticeable was the variety of architecture in Ulaanbaatar, ranging from traditional temples to skyscrapers.
The centre point of the city, Sukhbaatar Square, with a huge statue of Genghis Khaan, was amazing and gleamed in the sunlight. However, the most beautiful site in the city was the Gandan Monastery – if you decide to visit Mongolia, do not leave before witnessing it, it is absolutely spectacular. Even if you are not particularly religious, it just provides a tranquil environment detached from the chaotic city lifestyle and is quite an emotional atmosphere because of the intensity of faith.
On the other hand, if you are looking for an adventure, I would certainly recommend visiting Terelj National Park, the scenes are breath-taking and you have an opportunity to go horse riding, and do not worry, you do not need any experience, I had none but it was absolutely fine, occasionally bumpy but all part of the fun!
My Mongolian host family
I was then taken to my host family in Bayangol District, Ulaanbaatar. The district system seemed confusing at first but no fear, Ulaanbaatar is just divided into nine large districts, with a variety of sub-districts. Living with a host family seemed daunting at first, but they were so lovely.
I lived with the mum, dad and six year old son; the mum could speak very basic English and that was the extent of it (the dad and son did not speak English at all), so flicking frantically through the dictionary was our main form of communication – it certainly made meal times entertaining.
The meals were certainly interesting. The staple Mongolian food consisted of a combination of mutton (old lamb), and fat; or mutton and dumplings with fat; or mutton, cabbage, and fat. Admittedly, it did take some getting used to. The food is quite simple but flavoursome. The most absurd breakfast that my host Mum made was brown bread, milk skin (which I originally thought was butter so pasted it on my bread), sliced tomatoes and dulce de leche – the thick, milk based caramel spread. It was mind-boggling, but surprisingly tasty.
The family were incredibly welcoming and as long as I informed them that I was not going to be home for a meal, then they allowed me as much freedom as I wanted. They brought home cake, fruits, tea and yoghurts for snacks and on my last weekend, the took me to Zaisan – which is located at the first point South of the city, and represented a Russian memorial for all of those who fought with the Mongolians against the Japanese, in World War II. Honestly, if you visit expect to have thighs of steal by the end because you have to climb a ridiculous amount of stairs, but the view at the top was worth it, especially at sunset.
Working in an orphanage
From the host family apartment, the orphanage was only a twenty minute walk down a main road. I went every day, except weekends. I worked at the clinical care orphanage which was dedicated to working with orphaned or abandoned children from almost new born to three year olds. My first impression was how clean and colourful it was, which was a relief to see, but my first day was still tough – not physically but emotionally.
To think that these children have no parental love was heart-breaking. That is what the volunteers are for; we provide attention, love and care as much as we can to the children. The carers at the orphanage were efficient and dedicated to their work and we assisted them with feeding, bathing, dressing and entertaining the children. I worked with the babies, and the oldest I would have guessed was only ten months old.
It was certainly challenging because I had never looked after a baby before but you learn as you go along. It was just about giving as much love and care to the children as much as possible throughout their day from nine o’clock when you arrive to one o’clock when they nap, then you can return at three o’clock for another hour or so afterwards if you wished to do so. The most rewarding part of the entire trip was just seeing them smile!
Mongolia is an incredible country. The people are friendly, the architecture and history is fascinating and the countryside is stunning. My placement was a wonderful experience, one that will always be treasured! Experiences and memories last forever.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.