KHUVSGUL, Mongolia – The Khuvsgul region of northern Mongolia is a land of mountains, yurts, nomads and herds.
Reaching children in the remote communities of Khuvsgul is challenging. Roads are rough tracks that often change throughout the year, depending on the season. Families are isolated and poor. Many of them herd animals for their livelihoods, and children are expected to work.
Khuvsgul is home to diverse ethnic groups. Nine-year-old Murun is from the Tuva ethnic minority. Her family herds goats, cows and reindeer. When we visited Murun’s yurt, her father was away, deep in the forests with their herd of reindeer, which eat a special lichen during the harsh winter season.
|Murun helps with her family’s herd of goats.
© UNICEF Mongolia/2012/Dolan
Life away from home
Murun’s school is far from her home, and, like so many children here, she lives in the school’s dormitory. First-time students enrol when they are only 6 years old. Living away from their families is difficult.
Murun tells us that being away from her parents is hard. “I miss my mom a lot,” she says. For pupils of ethnic minorities whose native tongue is not Mongolian, the adjustment is even harder.
Children who live near the school can walk, but night closes in quickly, and some children must walk long distances in the dark. Temperatures can reach –45⁰ C. Children who live further away sometimes suffer frostbite on their faces and hands.
(Video) UNICEF reports on efforts to support inclusive education for children in remote communities in northern Mongolia.
Challenges of water and sanitation
There is no running water in the village of Tsagaannuur. The community gets its water from the nearby lake. In the school, children fetch water to wash themselves from containers that store the lake’s water.
The school’s latrines are outdoors, which makes it difficult for children, in particular, girls, especially during the winter and at night. Pointing to the latrines, Murun explains, “Our latrines are far from the dorm. At night, when we need to go, we’re scared.”
For so many countries worldwide in which UNICEF is working, access to clean, safe water and sanitation is a challenge. This holds true in Mongolia, which presents a unique set of issues, among them, the freezing temperatures. Schools across the country, especially in rural communities, face challenges such as unreliable sources for drinking water, poor hygiene conditions and a lack of hand-washing facilities, and insufficient shower facilities in dormitories.
Indoor toilets, outdoor latrines, inclusive education
In the next two years, UNICEF will provide Tsagaannuur’s school with indoor toilets for boys and girls, including toilet units for children with disabilities and urinals for boys. UNICEF will also provide outdoor ventilated latrines. The goal is to ensure that there are sufficient toilets, as well as showers, for all students.
UNICEF has been supporting Tsagaannuur school with teacher training, supplies and special integration programmes for children who have dropped out of school and children with disabilities. UNICEF’s non-formal education initiatives allow out-of-school children to catch up with the curriculum and be reintegrated into their classrooms. They also allow children with special needs to access basic education in a supportive, child-friendly environment so that they are not left behind and further stigmatized.
With its partners, UNICEF is also providing guidance and training to make the Tsagaannuur school a child-friendly school that provides quality education and promotes child participation, protection and inclusiveness.
Children like Murun are motivated to learn and value their education. “When I grow up,” she says, “I want to become a primary school teacher.” To make Murun’s dreams come true and unlock the potential for economic growth, we need to invest in children’s education.
The Schools for Asia initiative is determined to do just that and provide children with the best possible start in life.
Click here to find out more about Schools for Asia.
By Sabine Dolan