Star volunteered in Mongolia

Lotus Children’s Centre (Mongolia), Volunteers' Stories 5 Feb 2016

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Star graduated from Cambridge in 2015 and headed for Lotus in Mongolia for 6 weeks….

Lessons Learned at Lotus Orphanage

If you have any doubts about volunteering at Lotus for any reason, put that away to the back of your mind. To quote the eternal Sneaker wisdom of multinational corporation Nike, “Just do it !”. But mainly because there are plenty of compelling reasons for going. I will try to illustrate them the best I can. Volunteering at Lotus is completely different than taking the volunteer route through commercial agencies, which provide more ‘prescribed’ experiences. Lotus is an experience that gives you the freedom and independence to manage your own experience.

There were a handful of twenty somethings, as well as older volunteers savvy and experienced to the volunteer scene (apologies to James and Maha, you’re not that old just hugely inspiring). Volunteers I met were from England, France, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland and I’m sure many more throughout the year. I was very fortunate to have bumped into three Scottish volunteers who had impressively embarked on a roadtrip adventure from Scotland to Lotus in a van. Apparently this was not uncommon. They set up a trampoline and donated the van, since the lack of roads in the region meant cars are quickly ruined and Lotus needs a way to transport its 70 children.

To list the day-to-day activities you can get involved in at Lotus make them appear trivial when they are certainly not. Other than any teaching skills you may have, there are plenty of looking after the children’s’ daily needs. This includes taking them mountain walking, making up games, reading and colouring in books, crafts, supervising swimming trips to the river, breaking up squabbles and generally having a laugh. There are basic ground rules you have to follow, and the rest is up to you to get involved. You can plan your day however you like with whoever you like. You can spend a few days sight-seeing in the city in between.

The energy of the children at Lotus is boundless and a lot of the time it feels like they are entertaining you rather than the other way round. There are plenty of big personalities who you will remember individually. They are naughty and nice and generous in investing their trust and friendship in you. They constantly charm you with their wit and kindness.

One particularly vivid example was when some volunteers and I took some children up a nearby mountain. Gantulgar despite being the smallest made it to the top, far ahead of anyone else. On the way down, we noticed a litter of seven puppies that seemed alone. Anandi, who was particularly good with the terrifyingly large (but very docile) dogs down at the orphanage chattered all the back about how these puppies would not survive very long, as even without the problem of sustenance they would die of exposure, or even get eaten by other mountain dogs. I remember thinking it was unfortunate but probably not uncommon given the number of stray dogs I had seen in the towns, and we would just have to let nature take its course. Yet the very next day a few older boys had gone up the mountain with hammers, nails and pieces of wood and had made a dog shelter for the puppies. Some younger children had carried up water bottles and made porridge for the puppies to eat. This is just one of many examples of the wonderful experiences volunteers can have on a daily basis. Lotus is a unique environment that is hard to find in other volunteering experiences. As a non-profit, they only ask for the very base living costs for food and lodging, in return for you spending time with the children and lending a helping hand. The natural environment there is beautiful. The children are pure energy. The Lotus volunteers are golden human beings with big hearts. The neighbouring town is full of dust and trash and stray dogs.

But if you want to shop you can just travel to the City Centre instead. Also if you’re looking to shop then stay in whatever first world country from whence you came you self-indulgent so-and-so. (NOTE: I went to the City twice to shop).

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