A great start to the new school year

Johnny Baltzersen 

It’s almost too cliché, but still: The new school year in Mongolia is well underway.

From mid-September, Altanzul has been hanging in the pipe and above the keyboard. Every day. Hours and hours. Altanzul is the day-to-day coordinator of the BetterEducation – Better Lifeproject, and there are 62 schools and local chapters of MAPSSD that she has to keep track of. MAPSSD is CICED’s partner in Mongolia.

The project is actually in its 3rd year, and according to the original plan, we were supposed to finish the work by the end of September 2022. But the pandemic has put a damper on the rollout of the activities. The original plan was that we would currently provide home-based preschool for around 2000 nomadic children. Last year, when Mongolia was shut down for much of the time, we reached 300 children.

These months, another 1000 nomadic children and their parents are being visited by teachers and educators from the village school that the children will be attending next year. And the project has been extended to 2023, so we’ll get there.

Teachers and educators bring with them exercise books and materials for language and motor skills training for children and guides for parents. Depending on distance and cell phone coverage, these visits are followed up with monthly calls.

Logostics in Mongolian

It’s the procurement and distribution of materials, as well as parent and child response to the project that keeps Altanzul busy.

Some materials are authored by early childhood education experts at the Mongolian State University of Education in Ulaanbaatar and printed in the capital. These materials will be distributed to 62 village schools across Mongolia. There is no efficient postal service or parcel companies, so transportation logistics must be Mongolized: Altanzul notifies you that the materials are ready for pickup. In the 62 villages, you’ll find someone visiting Ulaanbaatar who can take the materials home. They are picked up at the Altanzul office.

If that model doesn’t work, there’s always someone from the village who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who lives in the capital who wants to help. He or she then collects the materials from Altanzul and finds a truck or public bus heading to that village.

And it works. Over the years, we’ve distributed thousands of books and magazines and tons of building materials to improve schools and classrooms. By truck – not bus.

As mentioned, only some of the materials need to be transported all the way from Ulaanbaatar. Other goodies, such as pencils and colors, coloring books and other motor skills exercises can be purchased locally. Perhaps the multi-buyers in the village or the market in the provincial capital. Which in many cases are 100-200 km away. But then the teachers go out and buy in bulk.

We’ve collected a series of photos from the past month’s efforts around Mongolia. The first photo is a ‘route plan’ for the first tour of nomadic families with 5-year-old children in the Bayan Undor district of Övörkhangai province. The start and end is the school with a blue facade and yellow roof. Such a tour typically takes 2-3 days with overnight stays at some of the families along the way. Since the local governor typically pays for gas based on mileage, it’s important to get it right from the start!

The route plan is followed by photos from the distribution of materials to nomadic children and their parents, photos from the schools’ preparation of the materials and finally photos from a few of the boarding departments, where the project has also provided materials for a hopefully more enjoyable leisure time.

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