Monday, December 7, 2015

IST—A Trip to UB

            Transportation in Mongolia can be difficult for some volunteers. Sally and I live 330km (207 miles) from the capital city, so our bus ride is only around 6 hours. If we wanted to save time, we could get there in 5 in a taxi, but it is more expensive. I have also grown accustomed to riding in the bus which is not at the mercy of every pothole.

            Bus riding in Mongolia, while the easiest way to travel, can have downsides. Sometimes the buses are either not heated or overheated. Roadside bathrooms can be… profoundly disturbing. It is also not uncommon to be sitting beside a mother or father with a child in his/her lap. Even with all of these problems, Sally and I are still dealing with a pretty easy half day trip to UB.

            Some volunteers are located on the other side of the country and deal with very long transportation issues. One of my friends must travel 4 hours to his Aimag Center from his soum (small village). This trip involves crossing land that has no roads in the snow and ice of winter. Once at the Aimag Center, he must board a bus for UB that travels for a solid 24 hours. Some sites are “fly sites,” but air travel can be difficult because the plane fair is as expensive as US fair, so many Mongolians would rather save money on 3 or 4 day bus trips. Roads in the country are always two-lane highways with enormous stretches of unpaved areas.  A trip to the other side of Mongolia that might take a day or two in the US by car takes 4-5 days in Mongolia.

            Even with all of these difficulties, last week the CYD and Health volunteers converged at the upstanding Park Hotel in Ulaanbaatar for our IST seminar. (Sally is a TEFL volunteer and will be attending IST in a week.) In-Service Training (IST) occurs in a volunteer’s fourth month of service. It is an opportunity to improve skills and develop working relationships with counterparts. Each volunteer brings a Mongolian CP to the training so that they can develop a project with the help of translators. It also helps the Mongolian counterparts better understand their American volunteer’s customs and odd behaviors.

            I found IST to be some of the most useful training I have received with PC. It was a week of improving relations, and helping my social worker and I understand each other. We have plans now to start a Children with Disabilities Campaign at our site now. The purpose of the Campaign would be to raise awareness among the community of persons with disabilities, and also create events that bring the children out into the community.  Our first activity will be a New Year’s (Шинэ Жил) Party for children with disabilities. There we will have games and also a discussion about upcoming trainings that we would like to offer to family and caretakers. Later next year, I am optimistic about bringing Special Olympics to Chinggis Hot. This program has been in place and run by volunteers in a number of Aimag Centers, but never in ours. Now that my counterpart and I have plans and focus, the real challenge will be making it happen, but I am excited about the possibilities. (I will dedicate a future post to disabilities in Mongolia, cultural perceptions, and programs available.)

            IST also offered an opportunity to catch-up with friends that are on the other side of the country, and share ideas. It seems that everybody is in the same boat. The first few months can be hard for CYD volunteers because of language barriers. Since our focus is not teaching English, we often have concepts that are difficult to express with limited language skills, but everyone seems excited about someday being capable to speak fluently… or maybe just better.

            The Park Hotel is the first opportunity that I have had to enjoy a hot shower with unlimited water. It was amazing. In one moment, it feels like six months of baths is washed away and cleanliness enjoyed. Needless to say, I took a shower every day at the hotel.


1 comment:

  1. The opportunity to bring Special Olympics to your area is exciting Caleb! :)