Yes, it was her dream. Since she was in high school Maagaa was great with numbers, with business, with financial management. She dreamed some day of being a professional accountant, but coming from a middle class family in Mongolia struggling under the Soviet System until the mid 90's it gradually became clear that even if she could manage to get the schooling, there would be no jobs for her. Instead she went to school and studies Finance, Spanish and English hoping for work somehow in international business. That didn't eventuate. There was marriage and children and all that that involves and as time went on, there simply were no jobs available. She did what most people ( certainly many people in Mongolia!) do and that is take what you can get.
When I met Maagaa she was working as a cleaner. Quiet and reserved she did an excellent and very thorough job but hesitated to engage in conversation - even though her English was quite good. Gradually as I got to know her I found out about her passionate desire ( unabated!) to become a professional and I came to respect her unswerving honesty and attention to detail. When it became obvious that the Children of the Peak Sanctuary Project was going to need a bookkeeper I went to Maagaa. I knew she had previously kept the books for a restaurant where she worked and I also knew that the single most important thing to ensure the success of the Project was me being able to have 100% confidence that the money was being properly managed. I needed someone I knew - someone I could trust. And it was obvious to me that that person was Maagaa - I just had to convince her of it!
In fact, convincing her was easy. She was thrilled to be able to have an opportunity to finally find a way back into the field she had for so long wanted to join but hadn't been able to. About 4 months into her job she came to me and told me that she needed more training. She needed more experience. She told me that if she was to do her job properly, she had to get certified.....oh, and she had already registered for school.
So began the journey of our very first participant in the Staff Development programme at the Peak. Maagaa insisted on paying for her own school even though we offered to pay. She looked at me very seriously and told me that it was inappropriate to pay for staff development unless the staff member had already proven that they were going to be capable of their new role. She was very clear about the fact that I didn't know if she was going to pass and therefore it wasn't right for me to help her - it was up to her and her alone. She worked full time ( very full time!) putting together monthly reports for the Mongolian Government, for us, for our accountants in Canada and other intereted parties. She oversaw the spending at the Kindergarten - not always a smooth and easy task given the many different demands from many different parties. As her husband says, if she has a dollar in her hand you have to take it three times before you end up with any money,! I could see from the reports and from being at the kindergarten that Maagaa was ensuring that we got the very best value for every dollar we were spending and that made it possible for me to continue with our expansion and development without worry. She did her job so seamlessly that I almost forgot she was also going to school full time!
It's been a very challenging 2 years for Maagaa and her family. She has worked full time AND done a 4 year programme in 2 years. Yesterday was her graduation. I was touched and honoured to be welcomed to the graduation as part of the family. Maagaa graduated with honours...94%. She was smiling and laughing and radiant. It was beautiful to see her dream come true and even more beautiful to see how confident, outing and secure she has become as she has travelled this journey. It was beautiful to see her mother awash in tears of pride and her husband and daughter looking at her with joy and admiration. It is inspirational to me to see how she ( and her family!) have managed these two years. Many days she was at work at 7:00 int he morning and not back from school until 11:00 at night and THEN had to do her homework. Her complete dedication was the thing that pulled her through and I am very proud not only of her but to know her and to have her as part of the team up at the Children of the Peak Sanctuary.
When I told her yesterday that I was reimbursing her for her tuition for the 2 years of school as part of our Professional Development Programme ( FYI those monies come from our own personal donations, not from yours!) she was stunned and shocked. Then she smiled a huge smile and said, "I'll give it to other people - I'll help others with it! You have helped me and this is a way I can pass that along". Tears...yes indeed, there were tears. That's just too beautiful, and just the kind of person she is.
Congratulations Maagaa ! Excellent job well done!
, February 2nd, 2016
Dateline - Children of the Peak Sancutary, Songin Khaikhan District, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
What a wonderful and amazing day! It is not every day that you get to experience hands-on the joy of seeing people helping people but yesterday was just that - a day to celebrate the generosity of spirit in our community! The combined efforts of schools, companies, donors (both local AND international!), sanctuary staff and volunteers meant that we were able to distribute Tsagaan Sar joy to over 80 families in the form of food hampers, wood & coal! This means there will be a celebration, warmth, food and family joy in over 80 households that would have had nothing. Many of them would not have been able to celebrate this most important of all holidays in Mongolia without your help. The joy and heartfelt thanks on their faces and in their eyes is hard to express but I'm hoping that you will be able to see in glowing in these photos. They were all extremely happy to receive these wonderful gifts and, once again, the Tsagaan Sar Food Drive, the brain child of the indomitable Susan Durrant, has reached the into the heart of one of the poorest communities in Mongolia and brought some joy!
Thank you to everyone who donated, organized, sorted, carried, delivered, and distributed donations. Special thanks to Michelle Borok for getting the idea rolling, the word out there and the donations rolling in! Porsche Mongolia, I have it on good authority, looked like a grocery store for a while last week as a steady stream of generous local individuals dropped by with donations ranging from a few bottles of oil to 100 pound bags of flour and everything in between! Thanks to Porsche and their wonderful staff for being the drop off centre, organizing donation events, sorting and boxing all the goodies, AND bringing them up and handing them out. As many of our recipients are elderly, this really meant putting your back into it ! The great folks at the American School did an amazing job of collecting food, wood and coal and bringing it along. Thirty of our hampers were made with the food collected by the students at ASU and, this year having been exceptionally cold, we found many homes that had nothing to burn except scraps of wood or tires and this addition of warmth on these cold Mongolian nights will make a huge difference to these peoples lives. Gatsuurt Company arrived in the midst of the food distribution with a mountain of potatoes ( which will be rebagged into smaller bags and handed out this week!) AND 1000 buzz as a surprise - hand made by their staff! The buzz will be part of the Tsagaan Sar Children's Celebration at the kindergarten later this week. To top off the day, Wagner Asia's CSR team showed up with a television, cable box and cable set up to donate in addition to a generous cash donation earlier in the week to the Tsagaan Sar food Drive.
The Children of the Peak Sanctuary Staff (as always) stepped up to the challenge and did an amazing job of managing the people at the gate, helping Grandmas and Grandpas on their way, carrying a ton of HEAVY boxes and bags, rounding up local children to help the elderly and just generally making sure that the people from our community were well served, enjoyed themselves and had a great day!
Great team effort ! Next year will be even bigger and better!! Thank you all for helping us make a difference, one child at a time.
Well, it has been ages and ages since I have had a chance to sit down and update this blog - my apologies. I have just returned to Canada last week and, in the throes of jet lag extraordinaire I am trying to stick to my determination to share with you a little bit of what it is like when I am in Mongolia. The work on the Children of the Peak Sanctuary Project runs the full gamut of human emotion. There is an intensity of excitement and joy along with inevitable sorrow and heartbreak that is exceptionally hard to adequately put into words. But I'm going to try. Over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of short (hopefully!) updates to try to show you all what we are accomplishing. I am hoping to give you all a better idea as to the challenges that we are still facing and how we look at who needs help and how we choose our projects to make the most impact . This is the first of 5 blog posts - Hope you enjoy them all!
When we are talking about the projects that make up the Children of the Peak Sanctuary Project, we usually focus on the kindergarten as it is our largest project. We do have, however, have a number of other projects which are designed to work in tandem to bring education, development and opportunities to our community. Our long term programme to create leaders of tomorrow who will truly understand the problems of poverty and will have the insight as to how to help alleviate it is underway. One goal we have each year is to have at least one child taken on scholarship at a private school in Ulaanbaatar. This undertaking has many difficulties - but the rewards are enormous and the future potential is very exciting! So - what does it take to make it work?
I would really like to thank to the English School of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar Primary and Modene Private schools!
These schools have partnered with us by providing scholarships for children from the Children of the Peak Sanctuary Kindergarten. They are helping us turn out future leaders who will understand the problems in the poorest neighbourhoods!
Then there are the children up at the kindergarten that I got to spend time with - starting the morning (every morning!) with the national anthem, helping the teachers by being the serving "assistant " for the day - laughing with friends and just enjoying a meal together.
In addition to our small office in the city, I have a tiny little corner that is mine up at the Kindergarten. I love the days when I get to work from there and really be in the middle of the light and laughter and excitement that our 128 children create every day. It is also so beautiful when, amidst the hustle and bustle of what constitutes daily operation of the Veloo Foundation projects in Mongolia, through meetings and evaluations about programmes, construction issues, transportation initiatives, trekking inquiries & gala event planning, partners, volunteers and safety awareness, you suddenly notice that the ever constant thrumming of chatter and skipping and laughter is gone. You notice the most curious of all things - silence. And then you can't resist sneaking away from the workings of the project to visit the reason for the Project...the children. They are so beautiful when they're sleeping.....or even when they're not! This is what it's all about. Happy, peaceful, well fed and educated children NOT up at the dump picking garbage!
Thanks to all of you who have made this possible. We truly could not do it without you all!
With Brad Winters of Foulger-Pratt (My Hero) and his right hand man, Pugee
Some blog posts are easier to write than others. This one is a tough one. Not because the subject matter is difficult. Quite the opposite - the subject matter is so wonderful that I fear English may be short of superlatives to describe it...but here goes...
A few weeks ago I took some folks up to the Sanctuary and into the dump to see the lives of our people up close and personal. One of these people "knew a guy" who had a building he was trying to get rid of ...would we potentially be interested? Well, sure, I guess. We're fundraising to expand the kindergarten to help more kids and if we could get a fully completed building for a reasonable price...well, that might work. That's how it started. Two days later I had a phone call from Brad Winters, the Country Director for Foulger-Pratt and my own personal angel, as it turns out! Brad asked me about what we were doing up at the Peak, the Mission and long term goals of the Foundation and a few other probing and serious questions...and then he told me about the building.
Foulger-Pratt contracting is a construction company and the building had been their office building while they were working in Mongolia. A steel frame modular building built in Mongolia, it was designed and built for the cold weather here - always a problem in construction - and could easily ( well..with six very large trucks and the second largest crane in the country!!) be moved. The company was looking to sell the building but when Brad heard about our work he said he thought maybe he could work something out with his boss. So it was that two days later ( while out horseback riding) I got the call from Brad to come and have a look at the building and see if we could use it.
It was BEAUTIFUL!! Four thousand of the warmest, safest, most beautiful square feet that I have ever seen. It was apparent that with very little effort we could retrofit the 4 large conference rooms / 5 small offices / 2 kitchens / 2 bathrooms to make a spectacular 3 classroom / 1 kitchen / 1 dining room / 1 library / 1 boot & coat room / 4 office / 2 many little toileted bathroom kindergarten! As I walked through it marvelling at the international standard fittings (emergency lights, fully networked, fire extinguishers for heaven's sake!!) I knew that THIS was the perfect solution to our kindergarten expansion plan. The funny thing is that I have dozens of drawings that I did for a 6 container kindergarten building. I had it all laid out in my head - the containers seemed to me like the best way to quickly and efficiently get a building up and running ...but the local inspector had said that it was a problem because the pipes on containerized buildings so often freeze at minus 50 or so. So we had been in a real dilemma about how to construct a new building. But here was the answer. It was my 'container building' come to life - only much much better!
So, after we had walked around the ( fully plumbed, networked and wired..... Yahoo!) building and I had seen the wonderful potential..and wanted it for our kids, I was getting set to ask that universally difficult question..."How much do you want for it?..." When Brad preempted me by asking what I thought of the building - Could we use it?. What do I think..hmmmn..that's a tough one - could we use it? In my head I am dancing and whooping and turning cartwheels and yelling " Yes! Absolutely! I LOVE IT!!! It's Perfect - amazing ...Exactly what I had hoped for, imagined , envisaged...it's great!" But, as one does in these negotiations, I held that all in and said something like " Yes, I think it would be a very good fit for our expansion goals".
And then....and then Brad reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. And handed it to me. Just handed it to me. I couldn't breathe..but wanted to make sure I wasn't making one of those several thousand dollar erroneous assumptions so I asked " So, does this mean you are GIVING us the building??" "Yes," he said with a lovely ( somewhat watery ) smile " Yes we are. We couldn't think of a better use for this building than helping all those children up at the dump".
Well, it was time for my own waterworks and much joy and gratitude . What a wonderful human being to make a gift of this magnitude happen! And what a wonderful company! Foulger-Pratt is to give such an incredible gift that will literally change the future of thousands of children .
Well, that's how the donation came to pass... but there was one small hitch. When I met with Brad and toured the building on Wednesday, the building was set up in the compound at the American Embassy and Foulger-Pratt wanted to get it out of there...by Friday. Those of you familiar with Mongolia know that that short of a timeline is more or less like asking someone ( anyone...) to walk on water...backwards and blindfolded. BUT...where there's a will, there's a way. And we definitely had a will! And we found the way!
First of all, there was frantic meeting on Thursday up at the Peak to find or, as it turns out, make a place to put the building. Our construction guy, Ganbaa who was already up at the Sanctuary working on renovating our existing building was truly tremendous! He switched gears, BUILT a retaining wall, brought in a bunch more guys and in 48 hours had a spot cleaned, supported and designed for the new building. Everyone pitched in .. teachers, parents, construction people. The first building move was the play house off of the basketball court that would be home to the new building. We have a second property about 400 meters away where we have been holding summer camps this year, so the decision was quickly made to pick up the house and move it up there. That done, the team set about getting permissions from the appropriate departments to allow us transport the SIX enormous ( much larger than containers...for the record) sections through the town. Persmission was granted ON THE SAME DAY!! Baskaa - a miracle worker!
Brad organized ( AND paid for!!) the appropriate crane...read the second largest crane in the country! ....to show up at the Embassy on Friday morning at 8:00 and Baskaa organized the trucks. We don't have any photos of that process as the Embassy doesn't allow photographs on the grounds, but here we are as they were loaded on the trucks. Happy People anywhere?? Such a phenomenal thing to witness! I have never seen such a sight really ... and I have to admit that I was glad that our permission for transport was during the night and I wouldn't be there to witness it... The roads into the sanctuary are very narrow and rutted and in places the electrical wires hang very low. The logistics of getting up there were pretty daunting but the crew was phenomenal ! The trip took 6 1/2 hours ( instead of the 40 minutes it would have taken by car at that time of the night!) but by 7:00 a.m. everyone was there - through the rain and the muck and across the swollen creek / river that one needs to cross to get to the sanctuary they had all made it! Six laden trucks, the crane, Ganbaa's construction crew - and the rest of us lookie loos who just wanted to see how they were going to make this happen!
Piece by piece the sections were lifted off the trucks and gingerly , like the biggest tetris game ever, set into place beside and on top of their corresponding pieces. And EVERYWHERE you looked... there was Brad, making sure that it was level, that the construction guys were manoeuvring the lifting pegs properly, that they were being unloaded in the right order and that the sections were properly locked in place.
In short... he was supervising it all... and making sure the children would have a wonderful, safe new home for their kindergarten!
OH..and he was giving interviews as well! News star of the day! We had 5 television stations up and reporting on this wonderful donation. It is not every day in Mongolia that a foreign company makes such a direct impact on the lives of so many of the most disenfranchised people in the country. Through this building Foulger-Pratt and Brad will be leaving a remarkable legacy. Because of this building we will be able not only to take an additional 60 or so children each year, but we will be able to do it better. Much better . We will have an arts and crafts room, a library, a dining hall, a music and movement room and a construction / science room. We will have running water, flush toilets and a preparation room for the teachers. We will have a supply room and offices for our Kindergarten chief. We will free up what is now our kitchen building and will be able to immediately set up a location for our vocational training programmes. That means that in addition to helping more kindergarten aged children, we will be able to help somewhere in the neighbourhood of forty 8 - 16 year olds every year get a skill or a trade that will enable them to take their place in society at large. These children are currently up at the dump scavenging in the garbage for food, recyclables and fuel instead of going to school.
This also means that our operating expenses just doubled! Yikes!! So... I will be spending the next few months going door to figurative door raising money to make the best use possible and help the most children possible with this wonderful new building! Expect to see me soon asking for help so we can keep helping children like the ones in the photo below from our summer camp!!
So..that's the story! Here's some more photos from the day showing you how it all went! Enjoy!
Here's some more shots of the day....
Ok...so I know you are sitting there asking yourself "WHO in the heck is crazy enough to set off for 700+ kilometres on horseback...in 10 days??!!" And why....? Well, the Gobi Gallop is our annual major fundraiser to help raise funds for Veloo Foundation projects. Each year we ride 700+kms, and each year we ride a different route across Mongolia.
Hello, welcome to the Veloo Blog. Here we will post new activities and events going on with the foundation. Enjoy!