Benefit Concert for Tumentsogt Soum

Back in April, there were huge wildfires across large areas of eastern Mongolia. One of our PCVs who lives in Tumentsogt soum in Sukhbaatar aimag shared some photos of the devastation the wildfires caused in his soum and the surrounding steppe:

Tumentsogt2

Over 75% of the countryside surrounding Tumentsogt was burned

Over 75% of the countryside surrounding Tumentsogt was burned

At least 60 families' gers (and everything inside) were completely destroyed by the fires

At least 60 families’ gers (and everything inside) were completely destroyed by the fires

A huge number of livestock were killed in the fires. As many people in soums are herders, their livestock are their livelihood

A huge number of livestock were killed in the fires. As many people in soums are herders, their livestock are their livelihood

So when my sitemates and I heard about this, we decided to hold a benefit concert to raise money for the people of Tumentsogt to help them rebuild their homes and purchase new household items and livestock. We planned the concert with the help of our Bookbridge center; the head of the center really took charge and got a lot of the stuff done (including handling all the money, since PCVs aren’t allowed to handle money for projects like this), and our students were very excited to plan performances for the show.

Uliastai has a theater that holds concerts quite regularly, and though it costs quite a bit of money to rent the theater for a concert, we were able to talk the theater director into letting us rent it for half the usual price since it was for a charitable cause. We decided to have each of Uliastai’s 5 schools put together 15 minutes worth of performances (singing, dancing, etc.) from their students, and to have each school try to sell 150 tickets to both of the showings (we had one at 6pm and another at 8pm on a Friday). Our Bookbridge students were also given 15 minutes for their own performances.

While we did run into a couple issues (like one of the school’s director refusing to allow his students to participate or to even sell tickets because they were busy getting ready for their school’s open house or something later that weekend), everything somehow managed to come together in less than a month. We were able to sell most of the tickets (making enough money to pay off the theater rental and have about 500,000 tugriks [roughly $250] in profits to donate to Tumentsogt) and the concert itself went very well. I took lots of photos and recorded videos of some of the performances and uploaded them to my YouTube channel, but here are a few of my favorites:

Students getting ready backstage

Students getting ready backstage

A young student dressed in traditional Mongolian costume getting ready to sing

A young student dressed in traditional Mongolian costume getting ready to sing

The first-place winner of our English Song Competition from the week before:

One of our 11th grade students singing and playing guitar

One of our 11th grade students singing and playing guitar

A student performing a traditional Mongolian dance

A student performing a traditional Mongolian dance

Although $250 may not seem like much, that amount of money goes a lot further here in Mongolia than it would in America, so I’d like to think we helped at least one family get back on their feet. And because the concert was such a success, we’re thinking of maybe doing another benefit concert next spring for some other cause.

The concert was the evening before one of my sitemates and I flew to UB, then took a bus up to Darkhan for Training of Trainers, which will be the subject of my next post (yes, I know I said that at the end of my previous post, but I’m serious this time).

Advertisements

Mid-May Update

The past few weeks have been very busy. I’ve been working a lot on our children’s emergency center project, mainly writing the proposal and looking into potential funding sources. I’ve applied for grants from a few large American foundations (Coca Cola Foundation, Gates Foundation, etc.) but I’m not very optimistic about those as I’m sure they get tons and tons of grant applications from around the world all the time. But there are quite a few Mongolian companies that (at least according to their websites) do the whole “social responsibility/community giving” thing where they support local projects, so at this point approaching those companies is probably our best bet. Unfortunately, my supervisor—the only other person who knows as much about the project as myself—will still be in UB for a couple more weeks, and I need her to, y’know, be Mongolian in order to talk to representatives from the companies.

In other news, despite my announcement in my last post about spring having finally arrived, it totally snowed last Friday. And not just flurries either:

May in Mongolia

May in Mongolia

It had been rainy all day, which was good since we hadn’t had any precipitation in over a month, but then the rain turned to snow and the wind started blowing like crazy. And it kept up for several hours, but once it finally stopped snowing, the accumulated snow melted fairly quickly. The ground is no longer frozen like it was in winter, and during the day the temperature has been well above freezing, so by the next day it was almost all melted.

Last Saturday was fun as our Bookbridge center hosted an English song competition for students from the older grades at each school. We—the American PCVs—were the judges of the students’ ability to pronounce the English lyrics clearly and their overall singing quality.

IMG_3690

Students sang songs by Adele, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, and tons of other artists.

This kid even danced along to his JT song

This student even danced along to his JBiebs song

The competition was sponsored by a local insurance company, so the winners received small cash prizes along with their certificates.

Later that same day, the Zavkhan PCVs got together to celebrate Virginia’s birthday and to welcome Karen, who was an M23 Volunteer in Uliastai (so she left right before I came to site) and had come back for a two-week visit. We made yummy quesadillas:

IMG_3755

IMG_3754

Strawberry margaritas (with some tweaks to account for availability of ingredients, though tequila is sold in one supermarket in town, and split amongst several of us, it wasn’t too expensive):

IMG_3749

And a pumpkin cheesecake (from cream cheese Karen had brought from UB), which we turned into Virginia’s birthday cake:

IMG_3758

Then we spent the evening chatting and playing Cards Against Humanity:

And eating pretzels, and drinking wine…

And eating pretzels, and drinking wine…

The main reason for Karen’s visit was that this was supposed to be the time when a group of dentists from an American NGO was going to come hold a dental clinic for students in Uliastai. Last May, Karen had organized for these dentists to come give dental health education and dental treatment to students who had lots of cavities (based on dental assessments that Karen had done on almost all the 6-8 year olds in Uliastai). But apparently they didn’t really check (or weren’t really told, depending on who you ask) about the Mongolian government’s requirements for bringing in medicines and practicing dentistry in country before they came, because when they arrived in UB, customs seized their boxes of medicines (as they hadn’t gotten medicine licenses from the Ministry of Health to bring them into the country) and they were told that they couldn’t practice dentistry because they hadn’t gotten dental licenses from the government ahead of time. But since they had come all this way, they ended up purchasing the medicines that they needed from a dentist in UB and went to Uliastai to do the dental clinic anyway (and technically illegally).

So that was a huge ordeal last year, but the dentists planned to come again this spring and to actually do it legally by getting all the licenses that the Mongolian government wanted. So since last September, Virginia and I had been working with the health specialist at the Social Development Department of the Zavkhan Governor’s Office, serving as local liaisons between the Mongolian government in UB and the president of this dental NGO. And let me tell you: it was an absolute pain in the ass.

First of all, the woman who is the president of the non-profit is a psychopath. My main job was to help the health specialist translate the emails she received from this woman and to write the reply emails. I have never seen such abhorrent messages from the head of an organization. We were in constant contact with the Ministry of Health and other government agencies in UB (again, we were trying to do this all legally this time around), and every time we let the president know of some information that the Mongolian government needed from the dentists (even something as simple as the expiration dates of the medicines they planned to bring), she would reply with an email full of “we are donating our time, money and talent and we should not have to jump through ridiculous hassles” and “obviously you do not want us to treat your children” and tons of other passive-aggressive or just straight-up aggressive comments.

To be fair, the difficulty of dealing with the bureaucracy that makes up much of the Mongolian government is certainly acknowledged here, and there were some requirements that seemed excessive, but this lady was just so unprofessional in all of her correspondences. I’m sure she’s a wonderful dentist, and I’m sure the non-profit does great work in the other countries they work in (which is why I’m not plastering their name all over this post), but some people just do not have the right personality or tact to be the face of an organization.

Anyway, about a month ago the NGO decided to cancel their trip to Mongolia. The reason(s), again, depend on who you ask, but suffice to say that it was a combination of Mongolian bureaucracy and this non-profit president taking it as a personal affront that the government would dare ask the dentists to provide proof of their credentials (because, you know, Mongolia is a developing country, so they should just be grateful that anyone would want to come provide dental care; after all, only first world countries like the US are allowed to have requirements and restrictions on foreigners coming into the country or what kinds of drugs they bring and administer to the nationals *end sarcasm*).

So even though the dentists weren’t coming, Karen came to do the dental assessments on the local children and to visit all her friends she hadn’t seen in almost a year. And since I’m the resident Health PCV, I’ve spent the past several days working with Karen on the dental assessments. We visited each school and checked the teeth of every 1st-3rd grade student.

IMG_3773

IMG_3825

IMG_3832

Karen’s method was to divide the mouth into quadrants (bottom left, bottom right, top left, top right). If a student had at least one cavity in each of the four quadrants, they were given a score of 4. If they had at least one cavity in three quadrants, a score of 3, etc.

For example, you can see 2 large cavities in both of the bottom quadrants in this kid

For example, you can see 2 large cavities in both of the bottom quadrants in this kid

Students were also automatically given a score of at least 3 if they had a large cavity in a tooth next to a permanent molar that had come in, as the decay would likely spread to that permanent tooth. In the rare cases where a student didn’t have any cavities, they were given a score of 0.

IMG_3801

IMG_3812

We had Mongolian assistants at each school record in Karen’s computer the students’ name, age, score, and whether they had seen a dentist in the past year (so that we could compare results from Karen’s dental assessments last year and for future assessments).

IMG_3803

We also taught each school’s doctor/nurse how to do the assessment so that they can continue monitoring the students’ dental health after we are gone.

Because as every good PCV knows, sustainability is key

Because as every good PCV knows, sustainability is key

And to the surprise of absolutely no one, the vast majority of the students received scores of 3 or 4. Many of them had more than one cavity in each quadrant, and their teeth were so rotted away I don’t know how they can even chew food without being in unbearable pain. I know most kids throughout the world get plenty of cavities, but here in Mongolia there is very little awareness of the importance of dental health. Part of the reason is that just a generation or two ago, your average Mongolian didn’t have access to the tons of candy, soft drinks, and other imported sugar-filled foods that the kids today enjoy. The traditional Mongolian diet consists of meat and dairy products (food not as conducive to developing cavities), so even without access to dental services or even toothpaste, these kids’ parents and grandparents didn’t grow up having to worry about a mouth full of cavities. (This is also why kids who live out in the countryside tend to have much better teeth than those in cities or towns: they don’t have access to–or their families can’t afford–all the sugary imported food and drink, so they just eat meat, dairy, and root vegetables.)

So now these adults don’t know how to take care of their children’s teeth to account for all the sugary food they eat. Some parents don’t even see it as a problem, thinking that cavities in baby teeth aren’t an issue because the teeth will eventually fall out on their own anyway. They don’t realize that cavities in baby teeth can spread to adjacent permanent teeth, or that if the children don’t develop healthy dental habits now, they’re much less likely to take care of their teeth later when they are all permanent teeth.

So even though the dentists aren’t coming to Uliastai this year, next week Karen plans to hold seminars at the schools for the students (and their parents) who received bad scores on the dental assessment, telling the parents the importance of taking care of their children’s teeth and demonstrating how to properly brush their teeth. I would be helping out with that, but for the next two weeks I will be back in Darkhan for the first time in almost 10 months for Training of Trainers. But more on that in the next post!