Gantsetseg, 10, ©UNICEF/2015/Zetty Brake
When the My Family Program was introduced to Nalaikh, a peri-urban district of Mongolia’s capital city Ulaanbaatar, in the second half of 2014, the aim was to help children aged 10-14 to gain more life and communications skills and to build character. While the very popular program achieved those goals, it also brought families closer together.
Gantsetseg became involved in the My Family Program when her fifth grade teacher introduced it to the class. Gantsetseg completed all 31 tasks outlined in the program with her family, including learning about her family’s history, time management, nutrition and health and budgeting.
“I liked the My Family Program,” she says. “All the tasks were good and fun. My five minute challenge, where we had to see what we could achieve in only five minutes was my favourite”.
The studious 10 year old, who wants to be a doctor or a singer when she grows up, lives in a “ger”, with her mother Tsermaa, 31, father Ganbat, 33, and younger sister Erdenetsetseg.
Tsermaa says her daughter has changed since the beginning of the My Family Program. “She has learnt a lot and uses that knowledge,” she says. “For example before she would boil water and put it on the floor where her younger sister could get it. Now she puts it up high to keep Erdenetsetseg safe.”
Tsermaa says the program also had a huge impact on the family. “We did not really talk to Gantsetseg before,” she explains. “We did not really listen to her or care what she was talking about. But now, we listen and like to talk to her.”
Baigalmaa at home
Baigalmaa, 14, and her father Chinbaatar, 45, mother Munkhbayar, 40 and younger sister Ouymaa, six, live in the same town as Gantsetseg in a two-bedroom apartment. They also experienced the program bringing the family closer together.
Before participating in the program Baigalmaa would spend her afternoons and evenings on the computer and would not engage with her family. But this changed when doing the program.
“When we were doing the program we had to do things together, she would talk to us and not use the computer so much,” Chinbaatar says. “The program raise a lot of discussions. Before the house was silent. Even though the program is over, we are still talking.”
Baigalmaa agrees. “I find the relationship between my parents and me and with my sister is warmer, closer and more open,” she says. “We started to really care about each other. My parents are listening to me more, and I am really trying to communicate better with them”.
The program looks at developing practical life skills for adolescents aged 10 – 14 through undertaking practical tasks at home with their family. While an initiative for the National Authority of Children and UNICEF, it was implemented in Nalaikh by the schools with the support of the Child and Family Development Department.
Naranbayar, head of the Child and Family Development Department, says that reaching all children in the targeted age group was a big aim of the program. “We really made an effort to reach all the children we could including those who are out-of-school and children with disabilities. We went to people’s home, gave them the book, explained what it is and why it is important and asked them to participate.”
With much pride Naranbayar shares that over 93 per cent of children in the target age group participated in the program. More important were the changes that the program brought to the children, their families and the community.
“When the program was completed it was clear that it had achieved a lot,” Naranbayar says. “Communication between children and parents is much better, they spend more time together, and parents got involved in what their children were doing.”
And the program is having a positive effect outside the family home. “We are hearing from teachers that parents are paying more attention to their children’s school work, parents are coming to school and meet with the teachers and social workers and they are engaging more in their child’s education, because of the program,” according to Naranbayar.
UNICEF Mongolia’s Adolescent Specialist Bolorchimeg Dagva says the program aimed to help the often forgotten adolescents develop the skills they need to grow into productive adults.
“The My Family Program takes adolescents on a journey that will help them develop some of the skills, values, abilities and experiences they will need in life,” Bolorchimeg says. “As adolescents are social actors in their own right, the program also empowers them to participate more within their families, schools and communities.”
Given the success of the program there is a lot of interest and hope that it will continue in 2015. There are discussions about rolling out the program nationwide and modifying it to include tasks targeted to vulnerable children, including those not in school or with disabilities.
Naranbayar says they want a program that targets older adolescents (15-17) with different tasks that address the issues they are facing. She also wants to modify the existing program to fit with the needs of vulnerable adolescents, such as at risk children, children out-of-school and juvenile offenders. “We could guide them, help them grow as a person and have the skills necessary to avoid or quit risky behaviours,” she says.
Whatever the decision, both Gantsetseg and Baigalmaa are very keen to be participate in the program again.
Zetty Brake, Communications and External Relations Officer at UNICEF Mongolia