After the amazing week I spent in the Terelj National Park, I barely had any time to recuperate before I jumped headlong into the next step of my Mongolian adventure. If you’ve been following this blog, you are probably aware of the fundraising effort I started for the Lotus Children’s Center, an organization here in Ulaanbaatar that is dedicated to giving homeless and orphaned children a better life. Well, today I journeyed out to the center with a fellow volunteer, met the staff and kids, and figured out what my place in everything will be.
The center is located quite a ways outside of town, so we had to take two different buses and walk almost 2 km to get to the orphanage. Luckily for my new friend Leah and I, we were met by a staff member named Sugi who was going in to work for the day. I’m pretty sure I would’ve been desperately lost if it hadn’t been for her help. Along the way we gawked at the surrounding terrain, which had a fresh blanket of snow.
Finally, we made it to the center. It’s a large walled complex with a number of housing units inside, a kitchen/mess hall, an office/school building, and several other structures.
Once inside, we marched straight into the office where we met the wonderful Fritz and Stani, a Dutch couple who’ve been working at and helping run this center for the past seven months. Immediately after meeting these two, I knew I was going to love working there. They were so welcoming, so happy to have us, and just really cool people in general.
We quickly got a tour of the premises. The particular center we were at is for the younger children, of which there are 29. Luckily for us, this makes for small, more manageable class sizes. I immediately decided I liked the classroom layout better than my academy in Korea. That might have more to do with the fact that there were desks for the teacher than anything else…
Stani gave us a rundown on what to expect with the kids, how we should approach interacting with them, how to go about establishing authority, etc. It was good advice, albeit standard, and further helped put me at ease with this new experience I’m undertaking.
Then we got straight down to business. This ‘business’ bit was great. Stani got out a notebook and asked us, “What would you like to do?” I had no clear idea, so she asked what I was good at. I mentioned I was pretty good with computers and technology and she immediately brightened up. Turns out, they’ve been wanting someone to help teach the students basic computer skills and proper typing technique. A few enthusiastic brainstorming ideas later and it was official. I am to be the technology teacher at the Lotus Center for the next two weeks.
My schedule was left completely up to me, so I decided on volunteering Monday through Friday for the first week. The second week we’ll figure out later once we’ve seen how things go.
Business finished, Stani and Fritz gave us free reign to check the center out, observe the kids, and amuse ourselves for a while. Stani told a young girl with phenomenal English ability to show me around the place. The little girl (I have no idea how to spell her name) grabbed my hand and gave me a whirlwind tour of the center, showing me the kitchens, Boys House, Spongebob House, Baby House, etc. The kids are divided up between the houses by age. Each house has a house mother who lives with and acts as a parent for their group of children. While we were doing this tour, a group of American teachers from a school in Ulaanbaatar showed up for a few hours to work with the students. They had a crafts activity with a big group of the young kids, and my guide left me no choice but to go in and join.
I spent the next hour or so making paper airplanes, drawing zoo animals on paper, having adorable girls comb and groom my hair, and being jumped on by over-eager boys. It was an absolute blast. I think I enjoyed the craft activities even more than the students did. At the end, I had one of the boys leap at me and give me a crushing bear hug while a little girl jumped on my back from behind and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. That’s when I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. These next two weeks are going to be absolutely precious.
This little one loved trying to comb my too-short-to-style hair
My tour guide and budding hair stylist/control freak