04 May 2015

Reaching those most in need

Uuganbat, an active, energetic three year old boy 
©UNICEF/Mongolia/2014/Zetty Brake
Uuganbat is a happy, energetic three year old boy. “I want to go to kindergarten,” he says. “At kindergarten you get to learn things, play with other children and eat nice food. My favourite game to play is school.” 

His mother, Urankhishig, 29, says he really wants to go to school. “Every night he prepares his clothes, like a uniform, ready for the morning to go to school,” she says. “He gets up really early in the morning to make sure he is ready, just in case it is time for him to go to school”.

Uuganbat lives in  crowded, rented ger on a small piece of land in Murun, Khuvsgul Province, northern Mongolia with his mother, father Tumurbaatar, 27, older sister Solongo, seven and his younger sister Tungalagtamir six months old.

The family moved to Murun a little over a year ago and have no family support. They have no running water and have to walk half a kilometer each way to collect water from the closest well.

The family is very poor and survives on welfare payments and income from Tumurbaatar, when he is able to secure work day laboring. Urankhishig wants to work, but can’t. “It is hard,” she says. “I need someone to help take care of my children, so I can work, but I have no one. I am also partially deaf, which makes it hard to get work”.   

A lack of education also makes it hard to find work. Urankhishig left school after the third grade, and Tumurbaatar after just one year.  “I am worried about my family,” Urankhishig, as she looks at her young children. ”I want them to be educated and healthy.”

When the family moved to Murun, Urankhishig was pregnant with her third child and Uuganbat was underweight and unwell. Luckily the family had been identified as at-risk by local health workers during their outreach work in the community, as part of the Reach Every District and Soum strategy (REDS).

Bayasgaltantuya a nurse at the Dalai-Elberel Family Clinic explains. “When we identified the family, Urankhishig was five months pregnant,” Bayasgaltantuya says. “We helped the family register with the various local authorities and made sure Urankhishig received antenatal care and was registered to give birth. We also gave her advice on breastfeeding, which she followed.”

They also helped Uuganbat. “When we first met Uuganbat, he was underweight,” she says. “The family clinic provided him with multiple micronutrients, including vitamin A and D, worked with the family to increase their awareness of nutrition and got the family food stamps. It has made a difference - Uuganbat is now a normal weight for his age, and much healthier”.

REDS strategy

Uuganbat at his home in Murun ©UNICEF/Mongolia/2014/Zetty Brake
The family’s situation is not unusual in Mongolia. Despite recent economic growth in the country, over a quarter of the population lives in poverty, according to the United Nations Development Program. When talking about child poverty, this figure is likely to be much higher.

One of the ways UNICEF, the Government of Mongolia and others are helping address poverty is through the REDS strategy. The nationwide strategy aims to identify vulnerable families in Mongolia who need additional support, and to assist them to access that support. The strategy targets the urban poor and integrates key health and social services.

Bayasgaltantuya says the REDS strategy is working. “One by one, we are helping families get access to shelter, health care, education and welfare payments such as food stamps or heating fuel subsidies, and to register them with local authorities. It is making a huge difference”.

Why health matters

Uuganbat with his mother Urankhishig and younger sister Tungalagtamir outside their home,
 a traditional Mongolian ger ©UNICEF/Mongolia/2014/Zetty Brake

Surenchimeg Vanchinkhuu UNICEF Health Specialist says improving the health of children is vital in the fight against poverty.

“When a child is healthy, they are more likely to fully develop and become a healthy adult, who can participate in society to their full potential,” Surenchimeg Vanchinkhuu says. “We want every child in Mongolia to have that opportunity”.

“Improving health services is at the core of UNICEF’s work around the world, and the REDS strategy is one key way we are doing this in Mongolia,” she says. “The REDS strategy is providing key low cost, high impact health interventions at the community level, while helping to build a stronger national health system”.

“Moreover, the strategy is collecting a lot of good data on the needs of the urban poor,” Dr Vanchinkhuu says. “This data should create the foundation for future planning for health and social services and make sure they are reaching those who need it the most,” she says.

Across Mongolia, the strategy has helped thousands of vulnerable families. For Uuganbat’s family, it has made a real difference. Bayasgaltantuya believes the family will be all right. “I am hopeful for them. I think they will have a bright future”.


Surenchimeg Vanchinkhuu, Health Specialist, UNICEF Mongolia

Additional reporting by Zetty Brake, Communications and External Relations Officer, and Odgerel Myagmar, Communication for Development Officer, UNICEF Mongolia

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