Notas. Amistad International Foundation.  Edition 2009

Rescued from the Dump.”  Report on orphaned children in Mongolia

Achlal School, a small elementary school tucked away in the hard to navigate ger district of Ulaanbaatar, the capitol city of Mongolia, was born of poverty. But today it has grown into a model elementary school and refuge for orphans.  Inside the school’s sky-blue, stucco-walled compound, students find safety, caring adults, and a peaceful, secure environment.

Last year this brave-heart-of-a-school did something quite remarkable by rescuing the poorest and most neglected children from the district dump.  The children were abandoned for reasons unknown, but they had a common denominator:  each had wandered into the dump in search of food and shelter in the midst of a bitter cold Mongolian winter. Not only were the children cold, miserable, and hungry, but the very air they breathed was fouled by thick smoke and particulate matter from burning coal.  They were fortunate if they were not physically ill or overwhelmed with hopelessness.

When the teachers of Achlal School saw the children scavenging the dump and living in trash-constructed shacks they knew they had to do something. Funds were limited and rescuing the children seemed a financial impossibility.  That’s when Amistad International stepped in to help. With contributions from its donors, Amistad partnered with Local Solutions Foundation of Mongolia to purchase gers (the traditional Nomadic felt tents of Mongolia, sometimes called yurts) thus creating homes for the orphans within the secure white walls of Achlal School. The children cried with joy to have homes to call their own, food to fill their empty stomachs, and clothes to warm their frail bodies. Now that they have these simple yet critical things of life, their scavenging days are over.

The children were “rough around the edges” at first and their language and actions showed it.  But once they realized they no longer had to fight for shelter and each scrap of food, they settled into a new and peaceful life. Adult supervision is provided on a 24/7 basis (continuing throughout the summer months) and the children are on their way to normalcy.

Donors provided beds for the kids, complete with warm blankets and privacy curtains. The traditional “pot bellied” stove was installed in each ger to provide heat for the children throughout the long, cold winter.  Each child was given a fuzzy stuffed animal – something soft and cuddly to hold in the dark of night – a simple but important gift.

While visiting the school in the summer of 2008, I discovered that a small wind turbine and solar panels had been installed by a Japanese charity, providing “clean energy” to complement the traditional coal-fired stoves. Talented Japanese artists had also painted story-book characters on the walls of the compound, making Achlal School a lively and attractive home for the kids.

But there is more to this story.  Although the young orphans were rescued, their education was still at risk.  Because the teachers chose to bring orphans into the school, the central school district in Ulaanbaatar refused continued financial support. According to law, children without documented parents, cannot attend public schools.  As a result, the teachers took the school into their own hands and created a non-profit organization.  From this point forward funds had to be raised for EVERYTHING.

One of their great needs was to update the textbooks.  If the school continued to teach from the old textbooks, the children would fall farther and farther behind in their educational competency – making it very difficult to pass a national standardized test, which would allow them to proceed with their secondary education.

This is when the Lawrence Rotary Club stepped in.  I drafted a Rotary Simplified grant, and raised funds from our club, to provide new textbooks for all of the schoolchildren.  A total of $2,200 was contributed to our partnering Ulaanbaatar Rotary Club, which in turn worked with the teachers to purchase textbooks, periodicals and books for the library.

This is a wonderful story of collaborating with a Mongolian Rotary Club and an American Rotary Club to further the education of impoverished Mongolian children and provide them with the first major step toward a successful future … one that holds great promise.