Notes from the Field

Undarmaa’s Escape: A Mongolian Woman Finds Safety in Ulaanbaatar Shelter

March 3, 2010

The vehicles traveling from Khovsgol Province in northwest Mongolia to Ulaanbaatar have to spend the night on the way because it’s such a long journey. These roads that connect Mongolia’s rural countryside with Ulaanbaatar have provided new opportunities and access to thousands of people who otherwise would have remained isolated. However, for some people like Undarmaa, this journey means much, much more: it helps put an end to her worst nightmare.

Undarmaa is 17 years old. From age 11, she was raped by her step-father. He threatened that if she told her mother, he would kill them both. Even though she wished to go to school, she says she was forced to stay at home and her every move was watched by her step-father. Once, as a punishment for leaving the house, he beat Undarmaa and her mother with a wooden stick from 10 at night until four the next morning. After that, she was finally able to escape from home, and traveled to Ulaanbaatar on public transportation.

After days of wandering around the city alone, including several nights spent underground in sewers, Undarmaa learned about a shelter called National Center Against Violence (NCAV). While at the shelter, Undarmaa received medical treatment and psychological counseling for a long period. After a while, she began to recover and slowly restored her confidence. While at the shelter, she studied English intensively with foreign teachers, read many books, and joined an English club where she gained a working knowledge of English. Mongolia officially recognizes English as a second language and its national curriculum specifies that English-language education begin in the 4th grade, and continue through secondary school. As a result, many Mongolians feel that English-language skills are critical to prospering in today’s global markets. Learning English helped guide Undarmaa’s career path and she is now studying law at a university in Ulaanbaatar.

Women who fled to the National Center Against Violence (NCAV) shelter in Ulaanbaatar relax with staff in the shelter's library.

Women who fled to the National Center Against Violence (NCAV) shelter in Ulaanbaatar relax with staff in the shelter's library.

Undarmaa’s story is similar to many of the other English club members at NCAV. To study English, the club uses books from Books for Asia which donates books every year to the shelter’s library. The library now has over 1,000 books donated by Books for Asia. In addition to the English club, the shelter organizes activities such as cooking classes and art lessons to help improve the self-confidence and social skills of the victims.

NCAV operates two shelters in Ulaanbaatar (one for women and one for children), and three shelters in provincial centers. Since 2004, after the passing of the Law against Domestic Violence, The Asia Foundation has partnered with NCAV to implement several projects on intensifying the enforcement of the new law. Thanks to local partners such as NCAV, women such as Undarmaa have a safe place where they can protect their rights and pursue their dreams.

*Note: Names, ages, and locations have been changed to protect the identity of the victims.

Tserenkhand Choijinnyam is a Books for Asia Program Assistant in Mongolia. She can be reached at tseegii@asiafound.mn.

View all posts by Tserenkhand Choijinnyam

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