28 February 2017

Unfolding individual potentials: A learning and recreational center gives children room to grow in Khuvsgul, Mongolia

Tamir after completing his puzzle game
©UNICEFMongolia/2017/Mungunkhishig Batbaatar
Rinchinlhumbe soum, Khuvsgul province: “Look, look! I’ve finished this” proudly says 7 year-old Tamir after completing a colored puzzle game in a newly-established learning and recreational center at a local school. He is an outgoing, bright kid who lives in Rinchilhumbe soum, one of the coldest places in Mongolia where the temperature stays around -40°C most of the time during winter.

When dawn breaks and fog settles over the school yard, signaling another bone-chilling day coming ahead, wood-burning stoves are lit to heat classrooms. Tamir is dubbed as the “friendliest” in his class but his teacher Ms. Otgonbayar stressed out the importance of his need for an individual, close attention which she cannot provide by herself. As Tamir suffers from epilepsy, a chronic neurological disorder marked by episodes of sensory disturbance and loss of consciousness, he is not able to keep up with the other pupils in an ordinary classroom environment. During exams and some classes, he would start to shake his head uncontrollably. “When that happens, I often get worried because I don’t know what to do” explains Ms. Otgonbayar. This small community in the northernmost province along the border of Mongolia and Russia is located some 1000 kilometers away from the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Thus, it is harder for basic social services, and special education teachers and professionals to reach those in need.

Tamir’s classmates and his teacher Ms. Otgonbayar
©UNICEFMongolia/2017/Mungunkhishig Batbaatar

Committed to including all children
Fortunately for hundreds of children like Tamir, UNICEF Mongolia in cooperation with Mongolian government and non-government partners, has established a learning and recreational center where children with disabilities, living in the furthest regions of Mongolia, can have meaningful access to education and be able to unfold their individual potentials. This initiative is funded by the Swedish National Committee for UNICEF, benefitting over 300 children with disabilities and disadvantages. Far-flung areas such as Rinchinlhumbe, Ulaan-uul, Bayanzurkh and Murun soums of Khuvsgul province were selected on the basis of having the highest number of out-of-school children in the region.

Tamir lives with his grandparents in a small “ger”, a traditional Mongolian housing in the soum center during the school sessions, while his parents and older brother live in the countryside to herd their animals. His grandparents further explained that Tamir seemed to have more frequent episodes of seizures at night when he is pressured to do more at school or in panic mode. “We observed that when he visits the center, he comes home always happy” adds Mrs. Ser-Od, Tamir’s grandmother. When asked about his favorite daily routine, Tamir cheerfully answered “Studying and playing at the center with his friends.”

Tamir in front his “ger,” a traditional Mongolian housing
©UNICEFMongolia/2017/Mungunkhishig Batbaatar
Mrs. Tsetsegmaa, a teacher in charge of the learning and recreational center at the local school established with UNICEF Mongolia’s support, explains that “Our Tamir would have been one of the drop-outs if not for his grandparents’ commitment for their grandchild’s education and the opening of this new facility.”

“While Mongolia has near universal primary education enrollment, there are around 30,000 children who are out-of-school. UNICEF is supporting the creation of an inclusive education system in Mongolia, where all children, including children with disabilities and other disadvantaged out-of-school children, receive meaningful learning opportunities, where everyone is included, differences are celebrated, learning is supported and that responds to individual needs like that of Tamir’s” said UNICEF Mongolia’s Education Specialist Bolorchimeg.

Children with disabilities can thrive and fully unfold their potentials in an inclusive classroom setting by adopting interventions such as learning and recreational centers. It takes all relevant stakeholders – from Government to NGOs to communities to families – to work together to build a more inclusive society for every child.

Mungunkhishig Batbaatar
Digital Communication Consultant, UNICEF Mongolia