Volunteering in the land of Chenghis Khan: my experiences in Mongolia

When Satyen Mishra’s volunteer profile was matched to Ovurkhangai Health Department, Arvikeeir, Mongolia, he had a few apprehensions about the language, extreme climate and alien culture. However his fears were soon allayed, as he found the people to be very friendly and supportive. He describes here how he benefitted from the experience.

A unique experience

It was indeed a unique experience to contribute to the uplifting of human health, of a society greatly lacking in knowledge of English (especially in my area of work). A dedicated interpreter was a valuable asset in helping to understand the ethos of the men we had to interact with, in order to serve them the best. The importance of a dedicated interpreter became even more significant since none of the team members were well versed in English – but this made the experience very interesting as gesticulations and body language skills dominated the process of understanding each other.

Establishing a rapport

In this situation, it was prudent to learn about the culture and make friends, not least to better grasp the body language and gestures so I could to reach out to beneficiaries at the earliest opportunity. Fortunately this worked quite well and a rapport was established easily. Average annual temperatures in Ulaanbaatar remain around 0°C, making it the world’s coldest capital city. The rural areas are situated at higher altitudes and face dry and windy conditions with prolonged winters and short summers.

The EU-funded project “Improving health through community volunteering and empowerment” was strikingly similar to the Indian “National rural health mission” (a Government of India public health programme to provide quality health services to underserved rural populations through community health volunteers). For this reason, I found the project goals in Mongolia easy enough to implement.

Sharpening my skills

On a personal level, the project helped me use and sharpen my individual skills immensely. Support from local people was excellent, and I learnt to live happily with the barest minimum of amenities.

Professionally I enjoyed sharing skills and learning from everyone I was in contact with. This enabled me to contribute my best efforts towards developing a training calendar and IEC (information, education and communication) materials for community volunteers, and to take part in capacity building activities. Conducting trainings for community health volunteers and field visits to other soums (districts) were really most enjoyable as well as valuable learning experiences.

To conclude, I am thankful for the opportunity coming my way. My Mongolian friends were so nice that I would like to proudly carry them through my whole life. The new culinary delights linger on my palette and the culture is truly unforgettable!

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