Francis Markus, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in Ulaanbaatar
The Red Cross Red Crescent is providing new homes for vulnerable families and helping them to improve their own lives and livelihoods.
To reach the home that 61-year-old Dorjpagam shares with her daughter and granddaughter, you have to travel a dirt track that winds its way round a jungle of container terminals and partially-built apartment blocks.
But even if the semi-urban landscape surrounding her dwelling looks a little bleak, Dorjpagam smiles as she recalls the first winter spent in her ger - a round, traditional Mongolian nomad’s tent provided by the Mongolian Red Cross Society (MRCS) last November.
Unlike the draughty ramshackle hut in which the three lived previously, the ger “was nice and cosy and warm here in the winter,” she says as she busies herself serving tea to her visitors.
Dorjpagam’s 30-year-old daughter, Tsatsaralmaa, has been unable to work regularly for the past few years because of a vascular problem in her legs. So Dorjpagam, Tsatsaralmaa and her five-year-old child have been reliant on government benefits.
The family is one of 12 vulnerable households which have so far received gers from MRCS in a pilot programme funded by the British Red Cross with major support from the Land Rover G4 Challenge.
The gers cost around 1,000 Swiss francs (900 US dollars/631 euro) each, and keeping the costs down is a struggle. But MRCS social care programme manager Ariunaa believes that, especially for those with a sick family member and children to support, these gers make a huge difference.
“This is a way in which we can make a long-term impact on people’s lives so that they don’t have to worry about a roof over their heads. And helping them to keep the children in school is absolutely vital for the family’s future,” says Ariunaa.
On the opposite side of the city from Dorjpagam, 38-year-old Munkhjargal and her family have also been provided with an MRCS ger.
She is a kidney patient who needs regular dialysis and cannot work, yet she and her husband have two teenaged children to support. The family had to sell their ger and some of their land in order to pay for her medical treatment. Before they received a new ger from MRCS in February 2008, 12 members of the family were squeezed into her father’s small home.
Helping to provide shelter for families like Munkhjargal’s is just one of the new directions in which MRCS’s social care programme has been evolving. Another significant new initiative is the implementation of around 25 self-support groups designed to generate food or income to improve livelihoods – crucially important in a time of rising food prices.
In her fenced yard on the windswept plain of Baganuur, the furthest outlying district of Ulaanbaatar and about two hours’ drive from the city centre, Tuya stands proudly by her potato plants.
“I’m growing different varieties to test which grow best,” says the former local government worker, who has been an MRCS volunteer for four years. Once she’s found which ones thrive best in the harsh Mongolian climate, she introduces them to the self-support group that she leads, so that all the families can grow them to meet their needs.