Derek Sola - General Care Projects in Mongolia
Mongolia: Happiest Time of My Life
I came to Mongolia with a vision of vast open spaces, an impression of peacefulness, and a desire to learn about Buddhism. I was not disappointed, although there is much more to Mongolia than that.
In Ulaanbaatar there is a noticeable mix of wealth and poverty and of traditional and modern. One of my most striking memories is of an elderly Mongolian woman in a “deel” (traditional Mongolian clothing) speaking on a mobile phone. In the city centre there are impressive buildings, expensive cars, and numerous cafes and shops. You can buy almost anything in Mongolia now. Once you venture into the “ger” districts (in the suburbs of Ulaanbaatar), it is clear that there is some extreme poverty and unemployment, and that this is a third World Country.
I made sure that I was in the countryside at every possible opportunity. The Mongolian countryside is so vast, green, mountainous and unbelievably beautiful. I challenge anybody to come here and not be blown away by the landscape. And you only need to go 10km outside of Ulaanbaatar to see such beautiful landscapes. Every volunteer I have met here has been deeply touched by the Mongolian countryside. Due to the tiny population of Mongolia (relative to its size) there are vast areas of unspoilt and uninhabited countryside to enjoy. Mongolia is a must for anyone who loves natural beauty.
There was a close group of volunteers during the summer. At one point in July there were 50 volunteers in Mongolia, and everyone had each others’ telephone numbers. We all met up regularly for drinks and meals. Mongolia, by its nature, attracts a certain type of person. I have encountered profoundly kind, compassionate, interesting and humorous people. I have made many close friends whom I am sure I’ll be in touch with for the rest of my life. I even met my girlfriend here.
For my first two months in Mongolia I worked in the Mongolian State University of Education, teaching English. I was delighted by the effort and desire of the students to learn. Every morning, I was greeted by 30 smiling faces, all trying to impress me with their best English. One day I set a test and I was amazed that every student revised thoroughly and worked extremely hard (in silence) for 3 hours. I have a little bit of teaching experience in England and, there, this wouldn’t happen in my experience. When I left they all made me cards and wrote me letters in English. They were all aged between 20 and 22 (roughly my age) so we all connected, and they became my friends. I feel honoured to have met them and will try to stay in touch with all of them.
In my third month I worked in the “Gerel” children’s centre. I had previously been to other orphanages in Mongolia and was amazed at the comfort with which these children lived. This orphanage has 28 children aged between 2 months and 8 years. They seemed to be well fed, well clothed and their accommodation was immaculate. I really got the impression that this orphanage is well funded and well run. The children are happy, and were delighted to have a male around. They called me “aav” (meaning father). Leaving was very sad, but not for the children who sang for me to say goodbye. The other orphanages I went to were nowhere near as well funded, but I was always touched by the extremely cheerful, generous and kind nature of the children.
So my experience of Mongolia truly has been life changing. I have met some amazing people (both Mongolians and fellow volunteers). There are some things I have learnt here that I will try to take home to England with me. Firstly, Mongolian people are most generous people I have ever met. Whatever they have they will share with you even if it really isn’t much. Secondly, Mongolian people are peaceful and calm and have a very accepting outlook on life. They neither get too happy nor too sad, but they are mostly content (and therefore happy). Thirdly, Mongolian people are so open and honest and you understand that there is no pretence in their kindness and friendliness. It’s my plan to come back next year and to live here in the future. That sums it up.
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.