Just over three years ago I found myself on an uncomfortably rough Aeroflot flght from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar. Looking out an all too small window, I could see the vast Mongolian steppe becoming lit by the first light of dawn. I was on board with about ten university students who had given up their summers to go to Mongolia, travel around the country working in rural communities, schools, churches, and amongst the nomadic families that still find their lively hood in their herds of animals.
The memories of those months in Mongolia are still very vivid in my mind, but they all seem to dim from one memory that I will never forget.
I was in the north, staying in the small town of Baruunburen. It’s a town with a population a little over 1,000. The town itself would be forgettable except for the fact that it lies directly off the road from Erdenet to the capital, guaranteeing it connection with the rest of Mongolia as all major transportation and communication follows that road. One afternoon, while working my way through the town on a two-week community development analysis, I found myself face to face with a woman who simply said:
“Please help my children stay in school.”
A bit taken aback, I questioned her to discover more what she was looking for. Up until that moment I had enjoyed Mongolia, one could even say I loved the country for its wide-open, wild beauty, but it hadn’t yet captured me. Something in my heart broke as this soft-spoken woman explained that she had until school started in the fall to come up with the money for her children’s schoolbooks due to cuts in school funding. She said if she was unable come up with the money, her children would have to drop out of school. My naive ideas of an easy solution were quickly shattered as she ended by saying the $20 it cost per child was equivalent to a one month salary.
That conversation changed the course of my life. I suddenly found myself motivated by one single goal; bring quality education back to Mongolia.
I knew that the situation was complicated, but I felt that the time it would take for government funding to come back to schools would be much too long for the futures of the children who were currently struggling to stay in school. $20 seemed a good place to start, so I started asking everyone I could to donate $20 to our cause. Four months later we had sponsored the education of 525 children. A year later, 3,490 more children from 9 different schools were receiving a better education.
Three years beyond that conversation on the street in Baruunburen I find myself desperately in love with Mongolia and its people, constantly seeking ways to ensure a bright future for its children. It is not easy not an easy goal, but it is necessary, and one I believe completely possible, to turn this situation around and positively impact Mongolia forever.
I now live in Mongolia with my wife. We spend our days studying Mongolian and supporting schools and communities, working alongside them to find solutions that will improve their capabilities to provide quality education for their children. Three years ago I couldn’t say that I knew much about Mongolia, and yet today I call it my home.
Come walk with us, I’d appreciate your company.