May 31, 2009

6/1/09 Mother & Child Day

Mongolia has a wonderful tradition: Mother & Child Day. It makes so much sense, to be a mother you have to have children and every child has a mother. Kind of an all inclusive holiday. And it's a national holiday. And for us, it also signals the start of summer.

As part of the festivities, the center participated in lots of activities. Daria took a load of goodies for the guys at the maximum security prison. Then, Davaa and I went to a very small neighborhood office which was a small government center with the police, social services and a medical clinic in one of the huge apartment blocks. They collected about a dozen women's names for us to help on Mother & Child Day. Only about five showed up, but we left bags of food and other items to be delivered to the others.

Davaa handing out bags

The first woman to arrive was 76. She had no family, so kids at the neighborhood high school had adopted her and had helped her throughout the year. She was heading to the schools graduation to thank all those who had helped her. It was wonderful to let us help her too.

Lookin' pretty smart

That took care of 'mothers' so next we went to an orphanage for the 'children'. Both the Shedrup Ling Center and the Dolma Ling Center have been trying to help a nearby orphanage this last year but this was my first visit. Housing about 150 kids ranging from about 4 years old to 18, it seemed a cheery place when you walked down the halls. But when the current director showed up at it's doors four years ago, it was a different story. There were guards at all the doors and the windows were barred and three kids had killed while residents in the year before. He said it seemed like an impossible task, to take over a place like that. What to do first? But what he accomplished was nothing short of a miracle. The guards and jail-like bars were gone, and in it's place was a warm open-arm kind of place that seemed far away from any institutional setting.

The kids all showed up at the auditorium, girls on one side and boys on the other. What stuck in your mind was how well behaved these kids were, and how they took care of each other, especially the little ones. Up first was a little entertainment Davaa and Munguu had arranged, a band of students from the cultural college.

The girls looking after a few of the youngest boys

The bands opening number

After the band played, Venerable Gyatso got up to say a few words to the children. He to had been so overjoyed to see how the kids took care of each other, just like a family. And in a culture where family is the central part of everyone's life, these kids had no one but each other. It was wonderful to see how happy they were.

Gyatso addresses the kids while Davaa translates

Then, to our surprise, a few of the children got up to sing for us.

One little girl singing her heart out

And then, kids being the same the world over, they love getting presents. Both Shedrup Ling Center and Dolma Ling Community Center had brought things for all the children. Each child was given a pair of sandals, a pair of socks, candy, and Roy passed out stuffed teddy bears that his mother had sent to the youngest ones. And other than a few kids asking for a different size or color or shoes, every child was well behaved and happy with what they got.

Her hands are almost too small for everything

Roy passing out stuffed toys

Trying on his new sandals

The children singing for us

By the end, all of us were exhausted. It was late so you could see some of the littlest ones had already fallen asleep and taken to their rooms. About 9pm, we said our goodbyes and headed home. A wonderful end of the day.

Click here for more pictures of the orphanage visit.