Gary volunteers in Mongolia

Lotus Children’s Centre (Mongolia), Volunteers' Stories 19 Sep 2013


Painting at Lotus Summer Camp


Gary, a quantity surveyor from Scotland gave up his job and moved to Mongolia

Coming to Mongolia

I  came to Lotus Children’s Centre to volunteer for one year. It was quite a big career change for me as I quit my steady job in Scotland and decided to come to an orphanage in Mongolia, never mind that I’d never worked with children before!

I can’t say that coming to Mongolia and working in an orphanage was something that had ever crossed my mind, but when I saw the opportunity to come, it really seemed like a one-off experience that would let me escape from the mundane 9 to 5 job that I held.

Arriving in Mongolia, I quickly learned that things were going to be very different from anywhere I had been before. This was my first time in Asia.

I’m quite good at adjusting to new situations, so I was quite comfortable in adapting to the Mongolian way.

Like any workplace, there are always challenges and many were faced here. One challenge was forming a bond with the children who came from varying backgrounds and being able to find a connection with these children is so rewarding and it’s great when you see the children happy. You definitely need some thick skin though because the children are not always the angels they appear to be! But it’s all just part of them growing up and part of the fun! Another challenge was the weather conditions during winter. The extreme cold meant that much of your time is spent indoors and I did find that difficult one month (coupled with other reasons), but like anything, you get on with it and you get through it…and things did get better.

The Challenges

The biggest challenge for me was working with the staff at the orphanage. Many cultural differences existed and, well, you just had to find a way of dealing with that. After all, this was not my country and they had to make more of an effort to speak in English as my Mongolian was and continues to be horrendous!  You really have just got to go with the flow of things and accept that things can be very slow in getting done. It’s pointless getting agitated over something that, in reality, you are powerless to change.

But through it all, I have never regretted anything throughout my time here. The special moments shared with the children more than made up for the times that weren’t so good. Even though it has only been a year, it’s amazing to see how the children’s personalities changed, some became closer, others became distant with you. They have their reasons and it’s important that you don’t take it personally because they have been through so much in their lives and so it’s only normal that becoming close with someone, who is a stranger and will only be here for a certain amount of time before taking off again, can be very difficult for them.

Before Mongolia, I wasn’t one for taking on much responsibility, so having sixty children looking to me for help was a bit of a shock! The first couple of weeks was all a bit of a blur, but after that, it became more natural and you learn which child is trying to mess with your head and who genuinely needs something.

Would I do it again?

The experience of living in Mongolia is an unforgettable one, it’s a special country to visit, the city not so much, but I have been living  just outside the city, in a beautiful valley where you could watch the sunset every evening in an array of colours. If you want the sunrise, then you could just walk up one of the hills located behind the orphanage and enjoy another outstanding view from there. The people are very hospitable although there are definitely apsects of their personality different from what we are used to in the West but it’s all part of adapting to a new culture.

All I can say is go in with an open mind and be flexible, because if you go in with certain ideas of what you think it should be like, then your experience is not going to be what it can be. Just embrace it, it’ll be worth it!

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