Promote Literacy

Holt expands our family strengthening work in Mongolia by funding an after-school program and library in an impoverished district of the country’s capital.

In the Songin Khairhan district of Mongolia, one of the poorest in the country’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, sits a social services building, an office where families come to receive support and services for themselves and their children. Since 2010, Holt International and its partners in Mongolia have provided relief for these families — many of whom have traveled from Mongolia’s countryside to find work — in the form of support that enables them to obtain nutritious food, medical services and educational materials.

In the coming months, Holt hopes to transform one of the rooms of this humble social services building into a fully functioning library and after-school program. “The children in this area love to read and need a safe place to go when they aren’t in school,” Paul Kim, Holt’s director of programs for Korea and Mongolia, says.

Fifteen years ago, in 1999, Holt began to serve homeless children in Ulaanbaatar through a partnership with the Mongolian NGO the Naidvar Center. Holt also established ties with Infant Sanitorium (IS), Mongolia’s primary government care center for abandoned children under 3. Together, IS and Holt developed the Rainbow Special Baby Care Unit, providing at-risk infants and toddlers with the proper nutrition, medical care and nurture they needed to recover and thrive.  Five years ago, in an effort to curb separation of children from their families, Holt introduced our family strengthening program and began providing services for 20 families in the Songin district, a large area in Ulaanbaatar consisting of 32 subdivisions and 65,423 families. Since that time, the program has grown to 190 families, most of whom are single mothers. The families in Holt’s program are referred through the district’s social welfare department. “This program enables parents to care for their children while they find the means to support their family independently,” Paul says.

When Bayar’s mother recently passed away, he and his older sister were adopted domestically by a family in the area. Domestic adoption in Mongolia is often performed informally within a child’s extended family or immediate community.  Working with the Mongolian government, Holt is helping to develop safeguards that ensure the welfare of children adopted in country.  “We are working towards domestic adoptive families doing a homestudy as well as follow-up visits after the child has been adopted,” Paul says. Bayar’s adoptive family lives in a remote area of the district in a Ger dwelling, the traditional housing structure in Mongolia. His adoptive mother makes a living selling coal in the street. Struggling to provide for the eight members of her family, she came to Holt in need of support.   Currently, Holt is providing Bayar’s family with nutritious food and school supplies. “[Bayar’s] mother was very happy that the children were enrolled in the program,” says a local Holt social worker. At 12 years old, Bayar is in the 6th grade and likes to play chess and soccer.

Bayar

The new after-school program and library will serve children just like Bayar, and Paul hopes that the incoming after-school program and library will further address some of the longstanding issues in the region. “Books are very expensive in Mongolia, and the local public library is in the city center, too far for the children to visit, especially as they cannot afford the bus fare,” Paul says. The neighborhood schools are also filled beyond capacity, forcing children like Bayar to attend school in shifts.  Due to lack of space and opportunities in the area, children have little to do when their classes aren’t in session. “There are no resources for these children. If they have parents, the parents are working or trying to find jobs and the children are much more at risk to get involved in illicit and unhealthy activities, leave their homes, and live on the streets,” Paul says.

Along with giving children access to books through the library, Holt also plans to provide study programs, art and music instruction, language class and other activities as well as incorporating a hot lunch component and health monitoring and hygiene program. The children will be provided counseling and intervention, as needed, by the social welfare officers, and it is Holt’s hope that this special after-school program will provide a gateway through which we can engage a much greater number of families in the district, provide services to them and their children, and have a positive impact on the community.

American writer Sidney Sheldon once said: “Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better.” The library, set to open at the end of the year, will provide children with a haven during the brutal winter months. Our partners in Mongolia are currently asking local citizens for donations of books, and the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia for English language books.  As far as library staffing, Paul is enthusiastic about the person who will be helping to run the program.  “She started working at the social welfare office a while ago, but before that she was a librarian,so that really worked out well,” Paul says with a smile. “This library and after-school program is a very exciting opportunity and addition in the area. We are looking forward to it opening and seeing how it impacts children’s lives.”

Ashli Keyser | Staff Writer 

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