Thursday, April 29, 2010

Domestic Violence Seminar

by Kara

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...)

Naraa, the trainer

Seminar participants

Seminar participants

Seminar participants playing the "atoms" game after a tea break to get them awake again before the following session started. In atoms the leader calls out a number and a body part and people group together (like atoms). Apparently this one was "four butts".  Naraa led this game but I also love leading this game with kids.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Quick Update

by Kara

A quick update on life here... The domestic violence seminar I got funding for and have helped organize is starting tomorrow! The trainer arrived today from UB (by finding a car at the last minute because the bus didn't run today due to bad weather) and we'll begin tomorrow morning at 9am. (Which means we'll probably actually start at 10.) It's a two-day seminar and we should have around 35 attendees. On Wednesday we'll be having more meetings and hopefully meet with the new governor to talk about this issue and talk about opening up a shelter here. Here's hoping and praying it all goes well. I'm really excited for it to actually happen! 

It's still winter. If you're on facebook you've read my unending complaints. But really, it's April 25 and the high for today was supposed to be 31 F degrees and we received another couple of inches of snow. I mean, come on! I'd like to go just one day, one day, without having to see a dead, frozen dog on my way to work. (Sorry mom, no, I can't rescue them.) Instead of wishing for summer, I've started counting down the days until I'll be in the US. I'm not even hoping for a really hot Washington June, I just want to have temperatures above 30 degrees and not have snow. I hope that's not too much to ask.

So ya, 36 days until I'm sitting comfortably on Korean airlines, being served complimentary food and drinks (which will not include mutton) by beautiful flight attendants, and watching movies for hours on end until I arrive at Seatac airport. I'm really looking forward to seeing friends and family, being a part of my best friend Shivali's wedding, eating tons and tons of amazing food, and taking a break from my work and Mongolia for a while. I just hope I haven't forgotten all of my Mongolian by the time I come back here.

Other than that I've been pretty busy at work writing many grant proposals. Writing them myself has actually become a lot easier for me - it's trying to get my counterparts/coworkers to write theirs in Mongolian and have ours match that is the real struggle. I finally brought in a translator of sorts to help in a couple of meetings, which has been very useful. The first time he came in, as he left, he looked at me with an expression of seriousness and sympathy, and said, "Wow, I think your job is very difficult." (re: the language barrier) I could only respond with, "Yes, yes it is." I don't mean to sound like too much of a downer, but geez, Mongolian is still a really, really difficult language. And I think it always will be for me.

The other highlight of last week was that Sun and Jin finally reunited. Yeah!! Thank you LOST writers.

That's all for now. Here's some nice animal pictures for you to enjoy.

Our little crazy cat Mishka in her new favorite toy, a box. We had a near death experience one night when she nearly strangled herself on that piece of string though. Seriously, I almost had a heart attack. Mishka was strangely unaffected by the whole event and went back to playing. The string has since been cut off.

Awww, there she is again. Isn't she cute? She sleeps in strange positions that often resemble high dive poses.

The most recent batch of puppies living in the abandoned building outside of our apartment building that I've become overly attached too.

Okay, this isn't an animal, but it gives me that same warm and fuzzy feeling that cute puppies and kittens do. It's delicious food! These are just the appetizers from an amazing meal our sitemate Sarah cooked. The best part was the spinach artichoke dip, covered in tomatoes, on the left. Do we have spinach or artichoke in our town? No. Does Sarah let that stop her? No. Thank you America for producing such items in cans.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

One Day's Wages

This is a wonderful movement. An idea that works. We've seen something like it work here in Mongolia in fact (not through this program, but the concept was similar). Enjoy the video. And if you feel moved...join.

Also, even after I heard about this idea, I had no idea that the man narrating the video would be one of our past pastors from Seattle (Eugene Cho).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pyramid Gold

by Mark

Let me begin by saying that English Olympics occur all over Mongolia, not just in Arkhangai. The Olympics themselves are a country-wide test that covers everything from Listening, to Grammar, to Essay writing (it's like a shorter version of the SAT in a foreign language). The volunteers of the aimag proctor the event and score the tests, but really have little part in the days creation.

That being said, the volunteers in Arkhangai have added an additional day to the contest to spice things up - an event we call Pyramid. Both of these took place about 3 weeks ago. All of the Arkhangai volunteers were able to come help out: Ashlee (from Battsengel soum), Katie (from Hashaat soum), and of course Sarah, Zaneta, Kara and myself from here in Tsetserleg.


No one really has a grasp on the origin of this name. Each school in Arkhangai can send a team of 4 students (1 of each - 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th graders) to compete. This year we had five separate teams. They get to pick team names such as The Humans, Black & White, oh and my favorite was Funny Bunny.

In order to prepare for this event, the students were all given 3 separate sets of English text about a month before the competition. They were to study the 2 page write-ups (one was on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., another was on the Pyramids in Egypt, and the third was a historical fiction on the holocaust). They were also told that some of the questions they would be asked would come from information outside of the text - thus forcing them to study the topics in great depth.

The first part of the Pyramid competition is basically a form of Jeopardy. There are 8 topics each with a 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 point scoring choice. Half of the topics were specific to a member of each grade, and the other half of the questions were asked to the entire team. They were given 30 seconds to write their answers down on a piece of paper, and then our wonderful judges (Ashlee and Sarah) went around giving thumbs-up or thumbs-down for each team. When it came time for a specific student from each grade to answer a question, they were asked to come to the front and write their answers down separate from the team.

The second part of the competition is called "A-Ha!". The students line up in a row, each wearing 3 stars on their shirts. They come forward and get asked a question - if they are correct they go to the back of the line, if they are incorrect they get a star taken from them and then go to the back of the line. When they are out of stars, they sit down. The last remaining person wins.

The third and final portion of the Pyramid contest involves the game of Taboo. Each school's team picks a team leader and that person is given a list of 20 English words that they must try to describe (only using English) without using the actual word on the list. They have 1 minute to get through as many as they can. Teams were getting anywhere from 5 to 15 of them right. It was a lot of fun to watch them concentrating so hard. We even ended up with a tie-break round at the end.

The competition was intense at times and you could definitely see that some of the students were frustrated with themselves for not getting an answer right. Though all of the students did a great job, it was fairly obvious to see that School #1 here in Tsetserleg (where Sarah teaches!) was running away with the competition.

Though these guys won the 2010 Pyramid competition, 3 of the 5 teams received medals and certificates. Everyone did great!

Yeah for the 2010 Pyramid Competition!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kids Wanna Play

by Mark

Yesterday I got invited to see the Grand Opening of a new Young Kids Game Center. Basically it's an open room decorated with all sorts of stuff that toddlers would love. It's geared toward the 1-5 year olds of Arkhangai, and sports everything from one of those bouncy house things to multiple slides and multiple types of vehicles to drive around in. This has been the dream of a young couple here in Arkhangai for nearly two years now. They've been developing the business plan along with Mercy Corps' business development company IEC, and recently received a loan to open this business.

Parents can bring their kids to the game center and let them play for 1000₮ per hour (or roughly $0.70/hr.). There are 2-3 staff members at the center at all times to watch the children, so the parents can feel free to drop them off and pick them up later. Basically it's like a glorified day care center!

Day 1 had the television crew there to catch the ribbon cutting ceremony (a must in any event here in Mongolia!), as well as local government representatives and folks from Mercy Corps. There were about a half dozen kids that showed to play on the brand new equipment. I stuck around for about an hour snapping a few photos...enjoy.

(The entry - Pooh bear wall paper and the thrill of seeing balloons and soft, multi-colored, square flooring!)

(What kid wouldn't wanna play here?!)

(Bouncy house!...and notice the small flat screen mounted to the wall. There was television and American hip-hop playing for the kids to enjoy! it.)

(There were 4 or 5 of these vehicles for kids to play with.)

(There were even lockers/cabinets for the kids...and please take note of the black bag hanging just left of the hoop - that's a punching bag with gloves!!!)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Now this is a Sports Competition!

by Mark

A few weeks back Kara got invited to join in what we thought was a volleyball tournament, but turned out to be a multi-workplace sports competition. There were 4 organizations competing on this day. Little did we know that there would be 5 separate "games" involved in this tournament of all tournaments. I got to tag along and watch most of it. The day started out with a quick dart throwing contest. We had no idea that the tournament had she just walked up and threw the dart with very little concern for what her score might be. Thus, no pictures and no idea how the team actually did overall. It didn't take much longer for us to realize the day was more than just the volleyball tournament that came next. Kara's workplace managed to win their first game, but lost the following three. Next came a badminton tournament (Kara wasn't involved) that required each business' director to pick a partner and compete. They won all of their games!

(Ask Kara to explain the print of some white man yelling on their team shirts!)

(They may have been a bit out of position...4 back and Kara holding down the front center!)

Next came the most entertaining aspect of the day. The relay race. I will let the video speak for sure to check out the second leg of the race! Yes, that is Kara wielding a hockey stick while moving around on old rollerblades that were about 2-3 sizes too small. Fantastic material.

Their time of 2:44 was good for third place in this portion of the tournament. Immediately following this came the Tug-of-War contest, where let's just say Kara's work was a bit undersized.

It was an entertaining day to say the least. Mongolians love competitions, and this was one of the most intricate, multi-faceted imaginable. And the winning organization's director received a new dart board as the prize - you know, to promote hard work in the workplace!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

First batch of helmets on their way!

by Kara

As I mentioned in a prior post, one of the projects I'm working on is to collect helmets for child jockeys to wear during horse races. Good news! The first batch of helmets are en route to Mongolia! Thanks to some very dedicated folks in the U.S. at least 23 kids in Arkhangai will be safer when competing in horse races this summer. Not only will they be safer, but they will look cool. Along with the helmets, a bunch of awesome helmet covers are being sent. Also, various types of knee pads are being shipped too! 

The organizer of this shipment, Kate, is somebody who I was very fortunate to come into contact with. She has taken a huge leadership role in working with me to organize this project. Thanks Kate!

Only 77 more to go until we reach our goal of 100!
You can help us reach our goal!

For updated info about this project check out my other blog:! (A website is currently being developed.)

Check out these pics of what's being sent - more pics to come of the packages arrival!

Sending Nyamtaivan to the States

by Mark

Our fellow PCV's here in Mongolia, Nathan and Leslie Chamberlain, have partnered with an organization to help raise money to send a young Mongolian girl to the States for advanced education. I won't take the time to explain everything, so please take a moment to read their blog post. If you feel like helping them raise the funds for this venture, the instructions for how to do so are found toward the end of the blog post.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

My Recent Trip to UB

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

by Kara

At the end of March Peace Corps paid for me to take a visit into the coldest capital city on earth, Ulaanbaatar. Here’s a quick summary of how it went!

I went in for a five-day training on how to implement a life skills book (developed by PC Mongolia) that’s about HIV/AIDS and STIs in a summer camp setting. In short, we have really great resources but actually putting them to work is difficult. This training allowed us to spend a week with a counterpart (aka co-worker) learning about life skills lessons, interactive facilitation methods (i.e. not lecturing at kids, which is very common here), and more about HIV/AIDS/STIs. I brought a counterpart who just started at my organization in February so I was a little unsure of how things would go, but it turned out really well. He’s our Child Development and Participation Specialist and he’ll be spending all summer at camp with kids. He’s 24 years old and has a lot of enthusiasm and energy, which kids love.

While the majority of the time at this training was really focused on work, it was simply nice to spend time with other PCVs. It’s really comforting to talk to one another about the ups and downs of work and life here in Mongolia. Plus, we watched over ten episodes of Glee together. Oh, and I went sledding on this awesome hill. Note, plastic bags work just as well as sleds. And the last night of the training the Mongolians organized a party involving dancing, games, and performances. The PCVs, myself included, performed a mash-up of Baby Got Back, Don’t Stop Believin’, and Dancing Queen. My counterpart was pretty much the MC of the event. The Mongolians sang some songs for us too, which included my counterpart doing the traditional throat-singing, which is pretty cool (it’s not easy). The Mongolians also orgaized what I consider awkward games (i.e. people having to act out animal mating rituals) but since I was only an observer (my PCV friends had to participate, not me), it was fine by me.

This is also how I spent a lot of my time during our training - eating! Our training was held at a hotel and they cooked pretty good meals for us the entire time. And between every meal was a tea break and a snack. Essentially, I ate every two hours for a week. And didn't have to do any dishes!

That's my counterpart, Awarzed, on the left, hard at work during a training session.

Yep, that's us, singing and dancing to our rendition (mash-up) of Baby Got Back, Don't Stop Believin', and Dancing Queen. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure our counterparts loved our performance.

Another photo from the dance party - my counterpart Awarzed dancing with my friend's counterpart.

I also spent a few days in UB before and after the training going to a couple of meetings and hanging out with friends. As always, when in UB I spend a bunch of money and eat delicious food. Oh, and I got to see Avatar in a real theater! It was awesome! Seriously, this movie theater is as nice as any I've seen in the U.S. and I really didn't know much about Avatar before going in, and I left thoroughly impressed. 

My last full day in UB I went to Narantuul, the huge black market in UB, with some friends. Unfortunately, as were leaving the market, my friend got pick-pocketed. However, we managed to chase the guy down and actually get the wallet back. The money was gone, but she was happy to have her wallet. Later that night we went to a hot pot restaurant (delicious!) and had a wonderful, relaxing dinner and enjoyed a bottle of wine and good conversation. Unfortunately, that evening ended with my same friend getting pick-pocked again – twice in one day – at the restaurant. The restaurant owner apologized and didn’t make us pay for our dinner he felt so bad. Also, PC is helping her out with some of the money she had stolen. Still, it made us all ready to return to our more comfortable small towns. Unfortunately, we’ve heard of numerous pick-pocketing instances in UB lately. I’m not sure what to make of it. Perhaps it’s because tourist season is approaching or because some people are getting more desperate because of the poor economic situation in this country (because of the horrible winter we’ve had). Or maybe we’ve just been here long enough to let our guards down. The good thing is that for the most part, most of these incidences don’t involve violence.

My friends Megan (left), Aleta (right), and I at dinner.

Anyway, that’s the short summary of my recent trip to UB! I hope I didn’t make UB sound too awful. It’s a pretty interesting city and I like a lot about it.