Project Mongolia is a charitable society based at the University of Edinburgh that was set up in February 2011.
The First Aid Project is largely based in the ger district of Ulaanbaatar with opportunities to go further outfield into the countryside. This August, we ran a total of nine training schemes covering a wide audience: from children to professionals.
Highlights included running a 10 hour course for psychologists at the National Institute for Children, and training workers at Gobi Cashmere (the first ever cashmere factory in Mongolia) which was followed by a tour of the facilities and a chance to buy discounted products.
Perhaps the most memorable experiences came at the summer camp, also run by Project Mongolia, where we gave a basic first aid course to disadvantaged teenagers. In our free time we joined in on some brutal Mongolian playground games (the kids are tough!) and were taught Mongolian choreography to ‘Uptown Funk’- a surreal experience in the emptiness of the countryside.
After the organised chaos of UB (for example having no regulations for the side of the steering wheel), the contrast of being outdoors was amazing. We also experienced the countryside and the nomadic lifestyle through a tour of the main national parks.
There is nothing quite like Mongolian hospitality; the nomadic family that we visited welcomed us warmly into their home and offered us a surprisingly delicious traditional lunch. Their toddler was also very excited to have company and brought his new football out to play.
During the course of our training we discovered some bizarre superstitions held by the Mongols regarding their health. A common misconception was the idea of spraying incense to wake an unconscious casualty and to prevent seizures and also, worryingly, sprinting to the river and submerging yourself to treat a snake bite. Even teaching the most basic first aid will go a long way towards improving living conditions in Mongolia.
As part of the camp project, I spent the summer of 2014 teaching English, music, and games to underprivileged children in the beautiful Mongolian countryside.
I joined the project in mid – April. The rest of the volunteers had been fundraising and preparing since October, so I had a stressful few months trying to scrape together money and organise my travels, but come June it was clear it had all been worth it. The journey itself was tiring but great. We flew to Beijing then took the Trans-Siberian through to Mongolia. Although cramped and excessively long, the train journey gave me one of my favourite moments of the trip: watching a gorgeous orange sunset over the Gobi desert.
At camp, we stayed in equally cramped accommodation (eight of us in a small cabin), but it was good for team bonding. Most days we’d teach English in the morning, leaving the rest of the day for fun camp activities such as swimming or hiking. The eight weeks of talent shows, bonfires, face painting, and (oddly enough) cross- dressing flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to return to Scotland.
A year on, I still miss the camp, the hilarity of the kids, the inordinate amount of time spent looking at the stars. Sometimes I even miss the food. I am so grateful to have experienced Mongolian culture first hand, and to have made the wonderful friends and memories that I did.
The best part however, was seeing how the money we raised positively affected the camp and the children who go there. The camp allows them to get away from their often troubled home lives, to have fun, and to just be kids for a while. So if you’re looking to do something worthwhile this summer, I urge you to get involved.
Interested in getting involved with one of our projects? Come along to our Launch Night at 7:30pm , October 7 at Teviot Loft Bar to hear more!
Image: James Brash