Red Cross steps in as children struggle to cope with impacts of Mongolian Dzud

Publié: 5 août 2016 10:56 CET

By Terrence Edwards, IFRC

Thousands of nomadic herder families in Mongolia lost their entire livelihood last winter after extreme weather conditions (known locally as dzud) killed almost a million livestock. In response to the crisis, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched an emergency appeal in March to support the Mongolian Red Cross Society in providing food and other vital necessities to the affected population.

As part of the emergency operation, the Red Cross has been conducting psychosocial support sessions with herder children living in school dormitories.

“Many herder children are deeply worried about the situation of their families and are in serious need of reassurance that they will be alright,” said Enkhjin Garid, the IFRC Programme Coordinator in Mongolia. “Some of the children are very shy and it has not been easy for them to share their feelings. The goal of the Red Cross volunteers is to help them deal with these anxieties.”

Red Cross volunteers and teachers from different schools received special psychosocial support training in cooperation with the international NGO, Save the Children.  The aim is to reach 5,000 school children - already 1,725 schoolchildren all over the country have received support.

In Uvs Province 160 students from seventh to tenth grade received support from Red Cross volunteers.

 “One of the most important goals is to show children how they can help when they come home from school,” said Erkhembayar Dulamsuren, Red Cross Branch Secretary in Uvs Province, emphasizing the importance of making children feel like active and valuable contributors to their families rather than a burden on their hard-working parents.

Children in Mongolia's traditional herding households have no choice but to grow up fast. They take part in the hard work that is necessary for survival in one of the coldest areas of the world. They often carry heavy responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning and helping to raise their younger siblings.

 “The dzud has been really hard on my kids,” said Mongolian herder, G. Amartuushin. For several weeks his son and two daughters experienced first-hand the trauma of seeing their livestock perish from cold and starvation.

“I made them work so hard when we were trying to save the animals. It was a very difficult choice, because although our family needs the animals to be able to survive, what is best for the children should always come first,” said Amartuushin.

“I knew my family was looking for food. We needed more hay and fodder. We needed more groceries,” said Dashnyam, Amartuushin’s 13-year-old son, who lives in the dorm in the Sagil Soum elementary school. The psychosocial support sessions helped him think of ways he could support his family during the winter. “I learned that even the smallest favour can be a big gesture to my parents,” he said.

To help the children deal with all the stress and worries brought by the dzud, the Red Cross funded a project to transform a dilapidated room into a space where the children could feel safe to talk with Red Cross volunteers about their desperate situation. The room also provided a play-area where the children could keep their minds off family troubles.

“We did all the repairs ourselves,” said Kh Naranjilmaa, the principal of Sagil Soum primary school. “The project has helped our children so much and the new facility has provided us with a space where we can also concentrate on promoting humanitarian values.”

Dzuds are not a new problem, but the herders in Uvs province realize that the extreme winter weather is becoming more frequent along with desertification, storms and other ill effects of climate change. One of the priorities for the Red Cross in Mongolia is to equip children with the life skills needed to cope with disaster and build their confidence so that they can adapt to the changing environment and sustain this ancient livelihood that is central to the Mongolian identity.