15 October 2013

“I want to be a teacher”: creating a Child Friendly Community in Nalaikh

Sambuu with his daughters and granddaughter
© UNICEF Mongolia/2013/Andy Brown
Ten-year-old Sarantugs lives with her parents and ten siblings in Nalaikh, a remote district of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She will be enrolling in fourth grade in September, and is one of few children in the family who can attend school. Her father Sambuu, 59, used to work as a plumber in the local governor’s office but he had a stroke and had to leave his job. He is counting the days until his sixtieth birthday, when he will be able to claim a pension.

Nalaikh is an industrial district that was established around a coal mine that supplies Ulaanbaatar. It has a mixed-ethnic community including Mongolians and Kazakhs. Sambuu has nine children plus grandchildren, some of whom are disabled. They are registered as a poor family and receive food stamps plus financial assistance of 10,000 tugriks per adult and 5,000 per child.

Last year, Sambuu attended UNICEF training on how to manage household finances. “Since the stroke, my leg has been lame and my memory is not so good,” Sambuu says. “We’ve had to borrow money from neighbours and relatives to make ends meet. The house is small for 13 people and we don’t always have enough food. We struggle to buy firewood and coal in winter to heat the house.”

The oldest daughter Amarsanaa used to have a job at the community well but she had to leave when her son was born. Now, the local government pays Sambuu a small bonus for doing work in the community, including cleaning streets. “Overall, our life is like taking a piece of material from the back of a deel [traditional dress] and using it to repair the front,” Sambuu says.

Sarantugs plays with and helps look after Amarsanaa’s son Otgonjargal
 © UNICEF Mongolia/2013/Andy Brown
Because of their poor living condition, Sambuu’s family can only afford to send two of their eight school-age children to school. Sarantugs is one of them. She attends School Number 119, but it has recently moved to a new location that is more difficult for her to reach. Sarantugs’s yard is in a neighborhood with narrow and dark streets. Many families keep dogs that roam the lanes freely, posing a threat to walkers.

“It is very tiring walking to school. I spend almost three hours on the way there and back,” Sarantugs says. “Other times I catch a minibus, which costs 200 tugriks. It’s cold in winter and I get scared when it gets dark.”

Despite the challenges, Sarantugs enjoys going to school. “Maths and Mongolian language are my favorite subjects,” she says. “I want to become a teacher and pass on my knowledge to my sisters, and children like them who can’t go to school.”

Child friendly environment

UNICEF is working with the local government in Nalaikh to create a Child Friendly Community where every child has the right to a livable environment.

This includes children being able to: walk safely in the streets on their own; have green spaces and live in an unpolluted environment; influence decisions and express their opinions about the town; receive basic services such as health care and education; be protected from exploitation, violence and abuse; and be an equal citizen of their town regardless of their ethnic origin, religion, family income, gender or disability.

In partnership with local NGOs, UNICEF assists residents of Nalaikh to draw up ‘social maps’ of their areas, which reveal problems such as lack of sports facilities or playgrounds for children, insufficient public transport routes, poor street lighting and lack of green space.

UNICEF community development specialist U. Mandal comments: “As a result of the social mapping process, the community group decided to construct a playground and obtained planning permission for this from the local government. They also asked the government to create a new school bus route for children in remote areas. These groups are becoming more confident in raising their concerns with the authorities, and are creating a better environment and services for children.”

Mohamed’s story

Mohamed looks after his children while his wife is at work
© UNICEF Mongolia/2013/Andy Brown
Mohamed Nurdaulet, 30, has three children: two sons Irkanat, 14, and Nurkanat, 4; and a daughter Jul, who is two years old. This winter, they are expecting an addition to their family – Mohamed’s wife Nargul is pregnant. They family are ethnic Kazaks who settled in Nalaikh a couple of years ago.

The family’s house is at the end of a main road. During rain or melting snow, the house floods with water that runs down the road directly towards their yard. The family struggles with their household income as neither Mohamed nor Nargul have fixed employment. However, they can get seasonal jobs in summer and recently opened a small meat shop.

Despite these difficulties, Mohamed is sending his children to school. “Our oldest son Irkanat goes to school and Nurkanat is in kindergarten,” he says. “We receive financial support from the local government. They also offer me occasional work on construction sites.”

The local government has selected 30 families so far for assistance. “We target vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, disabled and children, and provide them with social care services,” G. Ariunbulag, Head of the Social Care Department, explains. “UNICEF has provided training for our social workers and support for the families. We use UNICEF criteria to assess all the households in this district. This covers their livelihood, surroundings, health, protection and financial situation.”

Through UNICEF’s Child Friendly Communities initiative, Sarantugs, Irkanat, and children like them are able to attend school and live in a child-friendly environment.

The author
Undrakh Enkhbat is Communications Officer at UNICEF Mongolia

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