Notes from the Field

VIDEO: In Mongolia, Choose a Book, Change a Life

March 17, 2010

The paved road from Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar ends abruptly with a pile of rocks and a sign bearing an exclamation point, as if the rocks alone weren’t reason enough to stop.

“From here it’s going to be a bumpy and long ride,” said Myangaa, our driver for the day-long journey into Khishig-Undur. And with that, we pulled onto a small trail worn by decades’ worth of travelers making their way across the vast, barren landscape of Mongolia.

We were on a trip to deliver books to a classroom of fourth-grade students in this far-flung, rural community nearly 200 miles from the capital, and to film the journey for the third installment of our “Choose a Book, Change a Life” campaign.  (Watch the first and second videos of kids in Thailand and Bangladesh receiving their books.)

The journey was incredibly beautiful, to say the least. Occasionally we would happen upon a cow herder or a random ger (traditional Mongolian yurt), but as far as we could tell, we were the only people around for miles. After about seven hours of driving (and thankfully only one casualty, a flat tire as we made our way to get up close to some grazing camels), Khishig-Undur began to appear as a flat, black streak across the horizon. As we approached, the town became larger, like the village of roughly 3,000 that we had heard about.

We approached the school, and were immediately struck by its size. There in front of us was a large, fairly modern school building, which we soon found had separate classrooms for 1st through 11th grade students, an art room, a respectable gym, and even a museum to  honor some of the more talented students and famous alumni as well (a former Speaker of Parliament and Mongolia’s first astronaut included).

We were told that this is a common sight for rural schools in Mongolia, where schoolhouses are viewed as remarkably proud establishments. Mongolia boasts an extremely high literacy rate of over 95 percent. But despite this, schools like this one operate with less than adequate teaching materials. The rural population is smart and eager to learn, but they lack access to new books and other learning materials that would allow them to compete in this era of Internet technology and globalization. That’s why for over 10 years, Books for Asia has helped this school, and others like it all across Mongolia, by donating high-quality English-language text books and educational materials to the people who need them most. 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. English language books are greatly needed to support these efforts, and greatly valued by those who receive and use them.

On this trip, in addition to bringing boxes of brand new textbooks to the school, we also brought a selection of five popular Mongolian children’s stories, and let each fourth grade student in the first-year English class choose their favorite to take home. Since fourth grade is when English instruction begins for these students, we agreed to return to Khishig-Undur in two weeks with more childrens storybooks, this time in English. You can help us select which book to bring. Choose your favorite book from five classics, and we’ll deliver the one with the most votes to every student in Khishig-Undur’s fourth grade class. Watch the video below to vote for your favorite book.

Jon Jamieson is a Producer on The Asia Foundation’s Digital Media team. He can be reached at jjamieson@asiafound.org.

View all posts by Jon Jamieson

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