I started learning about the domestic violence (DV) situation in Mongolia last summer during training and it really had an impact on me. Then, earlier this year I heard about a woman who was killed by her boyfriend/husband here in my town, which really made the issue hit home. From what I can see, this is an issue that is not very openly discussed and often hidden and ignored in Mongolia. I think this can be true in the U.S. too, but in the U.S. there are usually more resources available to victims. In Mongolia, there is one main organization working to help victims of DV, advocate for DV victims, raise awareness in the community, affect policy, offer counseling to abusers, and help run shelters. This organization is the National Center Against Violence (NCAV) and it's located in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Unfortunately, there are virtually no resources available to DV victims in my aimag. After meeting with NCAV last fall I realized the first step to getting some resources available is to people is to raise awareness about the issue. NCAV suggested we hold a local training/seminar.
First, we needed funding. So, I wrote a grant proposal and submitted it to the U.S. Embassy here in Mongolia and they approved it right away! This grant provided funds for me to bring one of the NCAV staff from UB to Arkhangai and to pay for seminar expenses like lunch, pens, notebooks, room rental, etc.
Once I got the funding, through Mark's work at Mercy Corps I got connected with a great woman who lives here in my town to help me plan the seminar. Her name is Oyunchimeg, or Ochii for short. She works for a small NGO that Mercy Corps helped start. She was immediately really willing to help me. I really needed a great local counterpart to work with to get people to actually attend the seminar. Ochii happens to be really well connected and well respected in the community and said that would be no problem. Planning with her was a little difficult because she doesn't speak English, but I'm kind of used to that anyway. Plus, I got her in touch with the woman from NCAV who agreed to run the training, Narantuya (Naraa for short), and they were able to help each other plan.
Honestly, Ochii and Naraa did most of the planning and most of the work. Last week I was pretty nervous about the seminar actually happening because I wasn't able to print the invitations until Wednesday (5 days before the seminar was to occur), but fortunately, Ochii had already been in touch with all of the invitees. Still, printing a fancy little invitation was necessary (that's just what you do here).
So the morning of the seminar arrived and Naraa and I were to meet at 8:30 at her hotel to walk to the government building together. The seminar was to start at 9:00. I knew the seminar wouldn't actually start at 9:00 but I was a little worried when, after Naraa finished her breakfast, she and I didn't even arrive to the building until 9:08. Then there was a bunch of rapid Mongolian being spoken and it seemed the guard didn't know we had rented out one of the rooms. I know that I had a look of panic on my face, but nobody else seemed that worried. Finally, we got into the room and waited for people to arrive. By 9:30 only a few people had shown up and I was really worried at this point. Again, nobody else seemed really concerned. I was thinking that if we said the seminar started at 9:00 we'd actually start around 9:30 or 10:00. I was a little off. We finally had enough people to get things going by 10:30. Phew! It was actually starting!
After that, it was pretty smooth sailing. Ochii's assistant helped me with tea breaks (a very necessary part of any Mongolian training, and one of my personal favorite aspects of trainings here) where we served coffee, tea, and cookies. Other than that, I didn't do much. How can I? I don't speak very much Mongolian. Plus, from a community development perspective it was great to see something being led by Mongolians for Mongolians. I just helped put a few people in touch with each other and bring in some money.
So, we had two full days of training, with a total of about 25 people in attendance. My goal was 35 people, but I was happy with 25. There were government officials, police officers, doctors, NGO workers, my co-worker from the Dept for Children, social workers, and many others. Naraa did a wonderful job leading the training. Many seminars I've seen here in Mongolia involve one person lecturing at the group for hours on end. Naraa had interactive activities, games, icebreakers, and really challenged people to think and analyze the situation. Plus, she's incredibly knowledgeable about this topic (she has a Master's Degree and is working on her PhD) and people really seemed to like and respect her. Today, my coworker who attended the training, said she was really happy she got to attend. She thought it was a really important topic to discuss. I learned that she had actually asked my Director about opening up a shelter in our building, but my Director said no -- twice, also when my other coworker asked her. It's too bad that couldn't work out, but now I know I have another really invested community member to work on this project with.
On day three we had another meeting with some higher up government officials. Later, Naraa and I met directly with the Governor. I know you might think I live in really small town (we have about 18,000 residents), but meeting with the Governor is still a big deal here. This Governor just started last week, so it seems like nobody knows too much about him. However, from what I could tell, our meeting with him went very well. We told him about the seminar and introduced the idea of opening up a shelter in Arkhangai (which was my original goal all along). He seemed very interested and received the information and idea well. I think the next steps are for the Director of the Social Development Dept (who attended the training) to gather more data and do more research. I'm not sure how involved to be at this point and what my next steps are personally, but Naraa, from NCAV, is very interested in helping guide this process here in Arkhangai and I know I can work with her to keep things moving forward. (She also speaks some English!)
Overall, I would say the seminar was a success, but I hope that many of us can keep working and do more to get resources available to victims of domestic violence here in my province. My dream is to have a shelter opened up before I leave! (I'm a little nervous to have put that in writing, but maybe it will add some accountability...)