Saturday, June 23, 2012

A slight detour... taking the scenic route

It seems like I start every post like this, but goodness time flies by quickly!  Next week I will finish my last week of language study.  Might not seem so big, but it will mean that I will have finished 2 years of being a full-time language student!  Hurray!!  But on the other hand it is also a little scary... I have been studying this crazy, hard language for 2 years now and I still feel so inadequate (language wise) so often.  Help!  I guess what this means is that even though I will be finishing language study next week, I will never EVER really finish Mongolian language study.  I know people who have been here for 10 or 15 years, and they say the same thing- you never stop learning!  So, encouraging as that is, it is a little daunting too!  But either way, next Thursday is my last class as a full-time language student.  The other exciting (and scary) thing about that is that it means the next thing must begin.... am I really ready for this?!

A fresh-faced learner excited for the adventure
that is called "Mongolian language study"
Hitting the books
The plan all along was to open a kindergarten (preschool) in September.  As you can read in my very first post, The story with Mongolia, there is a real need for change and a fresh look at early childhood here in Mongolia.  The plan is to open a kindergarten that will be quality, that will be a model, that will facilitate teacher training and development, as well as family support (you can read our Mission, Vision and Overview here). 

The last few months have been busy as my team and I have been meeting, and planning, and running around for papers, and looking at buildings, and then we hit a road block..... all paperwork, documentation AND the building had to be ready and submitted before the 1st of March to be considered for registration for the new school year.  Detour #1.  Then soon after that: you may not rent, you have to OWN the building.  Smack!  Detour #2!  That kind of brought things to a grinding halt for a moment, and left us a little dazed.  We can wait a year, OK, but where on earth will we find the money to buy our building?  That's the big question (and still is!).  But, within a short while we realised that detours were actually blessings in disguise.  To start up in September, after me finishing language study next week, would have left us very rushed, and not able to do this thing to the highest quality that we really want.  So blessing #1:  We now have 9 months to think and plan and prepare, and do this thing REALLY well!  Blessing #2 is that we will be able to spend some time working on establishing the teacher training aspect of things, and continuing from where I left off at the beginning of the month.  Starting the KG in September would have meant that all of our energies would have been poured into getting that up and running well, and the teacher training would have gone on the back burner until who knows when.

Teacher training seminar

These lovely ladies are the core of my team

So... what is the plan, you may ask?  To take the scenic route, and enjoy the things we would have missed by taking a short-cut! J  We are starting an NGO called "Bfjff;lnay utj dol", which doesn't translate quite as well into English ("Dream family") but our vision and meaning behind the name is that families would be supported, that they would be learning a new way to "do" family life, that they would be reaching their potential, and raising their children with love and nurture and knowledge, being all that they could be... kind of something along those lines.  Family life looks very different here than it does back home.  Things are definitely changing, but in a culture where children are told they are "ugly" or "bad" or "naughty" (all are the same word) since they are a baby in order to protect them from bad luck, where parents and children have never uttered (or heard) the words "I love you", where children are "encouraged" to eat their food by being told that "If you don't eat your food the monster will come and get you!" or "A drunk person will come and get you!", well it is in this culture that we would like to see families changing, developing, growing and learning.  Please don't think that I am degrading the culture or thinking that mine is superior, but I think we could all agree that there is a need for a change in outlook, for a culture of encouragement, for families to be supported to love and nurture their children- and to TELL them these things.  This is what we long to see- families living with hope, and a new way of interacting with each other.  And the more I talk with Mongolian parents and families, the more I see their desire to learn, to see things change in their own families and culture.

The NGO will cater to 3 groups of people: children, parents and teachers.  Firstly we plan to host mother and child playgroups.  More and more mums are choosing to stay at home with their children now, and they are mostly stuck at home as there are not a lot of other options for them here.  The playgroup will provide a lovely environment outside of their home, where mothers can come and connect with other mums, support each other, where their children are stimulated, can play, and where we can provide support in sharing information on child development, nutrition, ideas for interacting with and nurturing children, family development and other topics.  Secondly we will host an after school care program for early primary aged children.  School finishes at 1pm, but parents don't finish work until 5 or 6pm, even kindergartens finish around that time too- so what do the children do?  They often end up home alone, or wandering about.  We will provide a safe environment where children will be supervised, where they can come, have a place to do their homework, and have opportunities to play, read, create, learn and relax until Mum and Dad get home.  Thirdly we will continue on with the teacher training that started last year.  One of our goals is to see partnerships developed between teachers and families.  And to see teachers really teaching in a way that nurtures and develops the children in their care. 

Mother and child playgroup
After school care
Teacher training
 As you can see this scenic route is actually pretty interesting,  and has a lot of potential for great adventure and new learning.  All of these things will be connecting us with children, families and teachers, providing valuable services to the community, and get us started as we take the next nine months to prepare and find (and buy!!) the right building.  

So, that's where things are at.  Not bad, just different to what we had first thought and planned.  Scenic! J

I would like to give you the opportunity to respond to this:

1. If you have any knowledge, wisdom, advice or suggestions on raising funds to purchase a building for the kindergarten please do share them with me!  I am very open to it, as I have never done anything like this before and feel a bit like a fish out of water.  I'm the girl who originally only ever planned to be a classroom teacher and to stay there, as that is what I love to do.  Now I find myself setting up an NGO, starting a kindergarten and training teachers, in MONGOLIA- talk about taking the scenic route!! J

2. If you have any baby/toddler toys that your little one has maybe outgrown, but are still in good shape that you would like to pass on for a good cause, that would be wonderful!  I have mostly worked with children aged 3 and up, so I don't have many toys and resources for younger children.  Finding quality toys here in Mongolia is a challenge, and when you do find them they are crazy expensive, so we are very open to hand-me-downs.  I received an awesome package last year from a lovely friend back home in Australia:

These foam blocks have been invaluable, and utilised over and over again!  They are pracitically impossible to find here, so they are such a lovely treasure!

Anyway, as I said, if you are interested in being a part of this venture by sending on some toys that would be great!  I even have my very own PO Box now, which is rather exciting.  If you would like to send, please send to:

Mother and child playgroup
c/o Naomi McKenzie
PO Box 602
Post Office 51
Ulaanbaatar, 13343

Thanks for reading!  I will keep you posted as we continue down this road... the scenic one! J

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