MN Homeless Children

Gadaadiin hunii bichsen Transheinii amidraltai Mongol huuhduudiin tuhai temdeglelees..

“So touching. I also collect something similar. One time I’ll become more powerful to minimize this type of social problems. If you guys have any toughts on it, pls share with me.”
*Children Foundation in Australia for Mongolians
* Very sensitive girl’s blog post about supporting children
* Awareness of homeless MN people to UK, NZ and worldwide people
* Mongol Angel children foundation in Japan
* Lotus children Centre with Australian organizer in UB
* Монгол Хүүхэд Санаачлага

VIMO Member – Ayunga

2008 оны 05-р сарын 08 18:37

Гадны хүний тэмдэглэл…

One night, as I slowly walked home through the dark, icy back alleys of Ulan Baatar, I was approached by two young boys; from the looks of their outstretched hands and malnourished frames, I knew they wanted food. My first reaction was to bring them into a local food establishment and tell them to eat all they could, a humanitarian act which would cost me 2,000 Tugrik – about 2 dollars. I was soon to discover that these boys were so notorious around the neighborhood that most restaurants barred the children from eating there, even if they were holding the hand of a foreigner…

Within a week, I could see they trusted me, they would hold my hand and ignore the stares — as we walked up and down the streets, they also brought me down to my first inhabited manhole. This hole, which they called home, was filled with trash: potato peels, broken glass, dirt, and feces. The hole had a pipe, one meter in diameter, which ran through the 4×8 meter space. The ceiling was 3 meters high, but the trash piles allowed little more than 1 meter of space for us to crawl around.

I was now in their realm. The boys quickly offered me water collected from a leaking pipe and a stew they had picked out of the trash. As I carefully ate the refuse, 13- year old Temujin and 11-year old Batar told me their story:

These boys were born on the streets and have never slept in a bed, except when the police come and throw them in jail for the night. This was a new program, entirely funded by World Vision-a Christian run NGO-usually implemented in the winter to keep children from living on the streets. The boys live with their sister (16) and mother, as well as her boyfriend in this manhole. The family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the police who would try to split them up. The mother wondered how her sons could earn enough money for jackets this winter (avg. temperature -40C).

According to the Sinkhat family, their situation was hopeless. None of the children were in school and the mother did little to help out the situation. She had moved from her community to Ulan Baatar in 1990, when Socialism collapsed in Mongolia and the democratic government promised new economic changes. What she found was a 35% unemployment rate, newly privatized and expensive housing, and a growing population of street children. Her family too would begin to sleep on the streets…

One day while I was down there, the boyfriend starting yelling from outside. Stone-drunk, he needed help to pull himself through the manhole. While one boy helped him get through, Batar and Temujin hid me in a corner and stood in front of me. The two motioned that this man would punch me if he saw me down there. Eventually, the drunkard stumbled into his cardboard bed and passed out; only then did the boys with large smiles let me go and help me out. The image that remains in my head is beautiful; two boys half my age, standing up tall like soldiers to keep me from being beat up. They would not budge, and I am confident they would have fought for me like they had for their family many times before.

According to an NGO called Save the Children, there are 4,000 street children under the age of 18 living in Ulan Baatar, Mongolia. This is a staggering number, considering the country’s population is only 2.4 million. The problem of street children started in 1990 when Socialism ended in Mongolia and a Parliamentary Democracy was established. Before this, Mongolia was considered a Soviet satellite state, a perfect example of Marxism working in an agrarian society. At one point in 1975, 85% of Mongolia’s exports and 90% of their imports came from their Soviet comrades. With support came Soviet infrastructure; the capital city, Ulan Baatar, was formed with the help of Russian architects. A square (Sukhbaatar) was built in the style of Moscow’s Red Square, coal-fueled power plants were established, and centralized heating and hot water pipes were built. The manholes which most street children now live in are worker access holes to the city’s water pipes; thus there is little space to move around, and the heat is stifling.

During this period, commonly called the Collective Period (1921-1990) every Mongolian man and woman, age 18-60 was forced to work for the collective, either inside the city or outside as an animal herder on the vast Mongolian steppe. When Socialism ended, there was a mass exodus of herdsmen and their children from the steppe to the city, but without government subsidized meals and housing, many turned to the streets. By 1992, there was a culture of street children, different gangs-often lauding hip-hop music, graffiti, and weapons-operated on certain blocks. Many boys moved to Ulan Baatar by stowing away on the train to escape their home and to join these gangs.

By 1995, due to pressures from NGO’s such as World Vision, Christina Nobles Foundation, and Save the Children, the Mongolian government finally admitted to the problem of street children; but to date, there is no comprehensive plan to stop the increasing numbers of people who can not sustain life in a country whose per capita GDP dips below $350 per year. According to one NGO worker, ìthe politicians [parliament members] are more worried about increasing their salaries than the future of Mongolia’s youth. Just this year, the Mongolian government received 1 million dollars in aid from Japan for the street children problem. The money disappeared. This is not uncommon in a country whose leaders (75 of 77 seats in parliament are Socialist) claim to promote democratic thought, but who take advantage of a clandestine political structure to fill their own coffers.

During my research, I interviewed and collected stories from nearly 50 of Mongolia’s street children — a staggering 80% of the people I encountered were male. Every story is different. Children talk of harsh home lives and fathers who beat them or who left them in the city. Many of the boys talk of being beat up by drunk Mongolian men. Sometimes they would talk about girls, fast cars, music, and, of all things, Britney Spears. Sometimes, they would talk about starvation.

Batar told me that he sleeps on his side when he is really hungry. Mostly, I found the children just wanted to play card games, run around, and act like children. As I immersed myself deeper into the Mongolian street children culture, which involved sleeping and living with different gangs, I discovered the beauty of their life.

These children, unsupervised, uneducated, and unafraid, attack each day together. Each person has a designated task, whether it be cleaning, begging, or cooking. In addition, the children look out for one another; different gangs of street children will help each other out when times are harder. If a child is sick, other members will do more work to help them out. In my experience I saw no bullying, beating, or stealing amongst the street children. They shared what they had with each other, and most surprisingly, with me, the white-faced foreigner carrying a camera. These boys gave me everything they owned: paintings, cigarettes, food and water; when they couldn’t give me this, they would tell me a story.

The situation in Mongolia is not totally helpless. Recent estimates project a decline in the number of street children. Christina Noble Children’s Foundation and World Vision have established communities for street children: a place for a child to live, learn, and play as a child and not as a street urchin. Many of these programs encourage street children to become social workers, who could hopefully help others get off the street in the future. In addition, free hospitals have been established to fight the chronic illnesses (mostly TB, pneumonia, and malnutrition) 80% of these children have.

While studying street children was only one facet of my study abroad period in Mongolia, it was by far the most educational. But what I set out to discover, how to solve the street children problem, was impossible. Instead I found a population of Lost Boys, the derelicts of society, the boys of the tunnels, who showed me that even in the poorest of situations, sometimes smiles still can help you survive.

Michael Salguero, 2002…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: