Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Extreme weather kills Mongolia livestock

Even according to Mongolian standards this is an exceptionally cold winter, and it's having some really drastic effects:

Work Update

by Kara

This is where I work: The Department for Children.

Like Mark said in his last post, we've both been keeping pretty busy with work lately. (Granted, "busy" is a relative term. So is "cold" I've learned.) I don't know if many people know this about Peace Corps Volunteers, but we actually have real jobs here. It's true! Most PCVs here in Mongolia are English teachers and only about 10% are Community Youth Development (CYD) volunteers like me. The best and worst parts about being a CYD volunteer is that you're usually given a very open job description. This is great because I have the opportunity to shape my job around what I want it to be, but it's very difficult because I am not given a lot of direction. Because of this my first few months here were really slow, which is pretty common. In addition, I face a big language barrier. I'm one of the few volunteers who doesn't have any English speakers in my workplace. That means I speak Mongolian 99% of the day, except for the few hours a week I'm teaching English. Thus during my first few months here my counterparts/coworkers and I spent a lot of time learning how to understand each other. My Mongolian skills slowly improved, but more than that, we learned how to talk to each other. My counterparts learned my limits and how to work within them. Now, when we talk to other people outside my work, they often translate for me - I speak to them in my broken Mongolian that only they can understand, then they rephrase it into proper Mongolian for others. It's cool because at least I can talk to somebody, but also reminds me just how far I have to go. All in all, I have good communication days, which I'm eternally thankful for, and bad ones which leave me frustrated and confused.

So, now that I've been with my workplace for about five months I'm finally starting to work on some projects. First, the biggest project at my work for this year is opening a new summer camp. My organization purchased the facilities in 2009, but they require a lot of renovation in order to be opened this summer. Initially, they showed me the budget and I thought they said I needed to raise $18,000! Fortunately, I later learned that they'd like me to help raise about $9000, which is still a ton of money. I'm currently working on a few grant proposals. One of the proposals is to get money to install wheelchair ramps, a wheelchair accessible outhouse, and to be able to waive the camp fee for disabled kids, kids from poor families, orphans, and other at risk youth. This isn't something my org originally asked for, but they're on board now. I'm excited about that project because I want to stress the importance of making the camp accessible for all kids in our province. My org recognizes the importance of including everybody, but doesn't always have the strategies for implementation. I hope I can be a part of that.

Another project I'm working on is increasing the materials in this resource room, the "Child Development Room" at my work. I got a bunch of books in English from the Asia Foundation while I was in UB this month and I'm working on acquiring more. I hope to figure out a way to purchase books in Mongolian too.

I'm also working on getting protective riding gear (helmets and pads) donated for kids to wear during the Nadaam horse races this summer. I got inspiration for this project from another PCV who did this at her site and while I had been only thinking about it, my counterpart talked me about it because she had the same idea. There are tons of kids who compete in the horse races, some as young as 5 years old, and most of them don't wear helmets. Unfortunately, kids fall off the horses every year, resulting in serious injuries and sometimes even death. Hopefully this can be a component of our "child protection" program here at my org.

In addition, I'm going to start doing life skills classes with my coworkers at some of the schools here in town. This has been in the works for a while but we keep getting hit with obstacles that prevent us from starting. Hopefully, we can get this started soon.

I also started doing English lessons with kids from a youth leadership council. That just started last week and I only had three kids show up (9th and 10th graders) so we'll see if it lasts. A lot of times I've started English lessons with people and they fade out after about three weeks. Oh and I also teach English to my coworkers twice a week and I teach English to the World Vision employees, outside of work, three times a week.

Outside of work I'm working on a project that I'm really excited about too. During my time here in Mongolia it has become very apparent to me that domestic violence is a huge issue and it is often being ignored. There are few to no resources available to victims here in my province. I want to start raising awareness by holding a three-day seminar about gender-based violence this spring. It will be led by a woman from the National Center Against Violence who is an expert in this field and who I have been talking to for the past few months. I also found an awesome woman to work with who is here in my town. She's agreed to help me organize it and get people to attend. We want all the leaders and decision-makers to come - government officials, school directors, directors of NGOs, business folks, doctors, social workers, etc. Right now I'm applying for a grant to get money to pay for the seminar. My hope is that after the seminar, people will be fired up about this issue and will be inspired to take more action. Ultimately, I would love to see an office and a shelter opened up. One step at a time though.

Anyway, I know that was a really long-winded work update, and if you've read this far, you probably know more about my work here than you did about my work back in the US, but I hope its interesting and gives you all some insight into what I'm doing here.

Oh! And when I'm not writing grant proposals, I help out with various events that take place here at my work. Here are some photos from some of them!

Little girl at the singing competition we had here this month. These kids weren't messing around - glitter, sparkles, curled hair, and make-up!

The future rappers of Mongolia. The two in back didn't even sing or rap - they were just part of the entourage. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Work stuff

by Mark

Kara and I have found ourselves quite busy in the past two weeks. We've traveled to and from UB for H1N1 shots - so for any of you out there wondering if we're vaccinated, we are. Of course we're vaccinated a good two months after the worst of the flu came through Mongolia...but hey, why should I complain about a paid trip into the capital. Anyway, immediately upon our return we found ourselves working on two related grant proposals for our community - Kara was creating one for a Domestic Violence information seminar and mine was for the creation of a business incubator here in Arkhangai that would have a focus on training women business owners in business management. Those were submitted in the past couple days.
The week before we left for UB, I was tasked with creating a couple of large banner designs for Mercy Corps and Mongol Rally events/campaigns. Attached here is a couple pictures of one of the banners hanging from the government building here in town. I was quite proud...

...that is until I found out two days after we returned from UB that there was a wind storm in the middle of the night, the sign blew away, and someone must have hauled it off (probably to use as roof coverage for an apartment building - we've had this happen before). I suggested someone just loved my design work so much they wanted this masterpiece hanging in their living room.
Oh well, I think the other banner will be used indoors for an event coming up soon. Hopefully that one stays in place.
So that's a taste of what I've been up to in the workplace...all of that while still attempting to put together a 3 part training on Sustainable Tourism in Arkhangai that will most likely be presented in March/April of this year. I've really enjoyed being busy at work, and it definitely has helped us pass the time during these cold days. The winter has been waning recently, but supposedly we're in for another couple days of snow this week. Oh and the week following I'm supposed to be taking another 5-day soum trip to monitor businesses and pass out information on the Mercy Corps loan guarantee mechanism program. Should be fun...

Take care. Stay warm.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mongolian Music

by Kara

I thought some of you might be interested in hearing some modern Mongolian music. Check out these bands!

This last group, Altan Urag, we saw perform while we were in UB. They combine elements of traditional Mongolian music, i.e. throat singing and the морин хуур (that's morin huur or the horse fiddle), with modern musical elements. The scenes from the video are from the movie Mongol; they did a lot of the soundtrack for that movie.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Year's Fireworks

by Mark

We celebrated New Years by eating a large dinner at 5pm, chatting for hours, and killing time before the local fireworks started blasting off just before midnight. Our friend Aleta (fellow Zuunmod trainee, CYD volunteer stationed in Baga Nuur) was visiting our wonderful aimag at the time and stayed a few days over the holidays. She was kind enough to snap these photos and send them our way. Enjoy.

Kara hiking through the hills just NE of town

Mark, Kara, and Sarah all bundled up enjoying the fireworks display.

Great shot of fireworks over the haashaa neighborhood

Another cool shot - showing the field just outside our front door, with the homes on the hillside in the background. It may appear picturesquely light out, but remember it's midnight and -30 celsius...the beauty is best remembered in photo...we didn't spend too much time outside.