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Thursday, January 20, 2011

I love these kids and this place...



I know I have said this same phrase many times since my arrival in this vast country 7 months ago, and it bears repeating..... I love these kids and this place! Every day that I spend time with the students here, especially my dorm kids, my heart is full.
Though it may be difficult to inspire change, a great change has taken place in me in the short time I have been here. My heart has never been this open and loving before (with the exception of my love for my own children). At my age, I think I have now become what I officially term "a crier"...Sometimes I feel so emotional and overwhelmed with warm fuzzy feelings for them that my eyes fill up.
Many of these children do without a lot of things, just by virtue of living in the dormitory. They live there during most of the school year (Sept. 1 through May) with only a few breaks to return home. Some are orphans, some from trouble families, and all are from neighboring soums (small towns out in the country).
Some of these students are there only because their tiny soum does not have a school, or because their local school does not go past 8th grade. To complete their education, they must live in the dormitory.
The dormitory in my aimag center houses 100 children. These kids live there with minimal supervision, and minimal love and attention. Not to say they are neglected or running wild; that is not the case. However, I don't believe that American children under the same circumstances would behave so well.
Of the 100 residents, approximately 60 are boys, 40 girls. They are housed on separate floors. Boys on the first/main floor, girls and "family units" on the second. The first floor also contains a large kitchen, dining hall, offices and storage space.
The only working toilets in the whole building are located on the first floor. This is one small bathroom with two toilets,no stalls and is shared by all the kids. (Think about that for a minute......I used to think it was horrendous to share two toilets with my three children....) Perspective.....
There are actually other toilets upstairs (an entire bathroom designed for small kids, 6 and under with the tiny toddler toilets).... which has been closed off since 2004. The shower room, has also been closed since 2004 when the water heater broke and the solution was to turn it into a storage room.
There will be more ranting about plumbing later.... The school is more interested in new windows for the building which are desperately needed. I am slowly working on a grant for this need.
The second floor houses girls and what I call "family rooms". If there is a whole family of children, all the siblings share a room. I found it weird at first, but now see that it works pretty well for all of them. Mongolian children appear to have more responsibility toward siblings and the older ones are always looking out for and caring for the littler ones, related or not. I believe newer younger students without siblings are placed with older girls as well. (My limited understanding of the language is burdensome...)
The entire dormitory is financed by the Ministry of Education. There is a small amount for food per child, equal to about one dollar and housing costs are covered. Not all the children come from poor families, but it's not evident who may or may not...... Personal possessions here are minimal. I learned that early on from my young host family over the summer. Though they were a family and had a tv, and a dvd player, they owned one photo album, one game, and had a couple albums covering their school years.
The dorm kids may have cell phones and those who do keep in touch with their parents. It does not appear to be a status symbol. Clothing is all pretty equivalent, and none of them have extras like i pods, etc.....
They have chores at the dorm, must keep rooms clean, rotate helping and cleaning after meals. Discipline and structure is here; although I tend to be concerned about extra attention from adults.
This is where I come in... there are two dorm teachers, both of whom are great though have different styles of interaction with the kids. They are there day and evening, switching shifts on a rotating basis.
Not much going on in the way of extracurricular activities, which has been a thrilling opportunity for me...Some days it appears I've become an art teacher after all! That's just one arts and crafts activity a week, and they are thrilled to make and display artwork!!! I love seeing their joy, though it's difficult to get them to smile for pictures...
Movie night on Wednesdays is a favorite for everyone, with sometimes 50 kids attending....Recently story time has started on Monday evenings for the littler kids, right before the teacher and I have life skills class for the 12 and older crowd. We are discussing relationships, dating, love, etc... they are quite interested.
After our int ital life skills class Monday, several of the students came up to me after class to say in their Mongolian way, "thank you Jo teacher"... No wonder I love these kids and this place so much.




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