Two years ago, Holt donors gave Lhagvajav a brand new “ger” — a traditional Mongolian home — in which to raise his six children. He promised that he would work hard, and help his children succeed. He has lived up to his promise.
Two years ago, we visited Lhagvajav and his family at their home on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. It was the last day of a week-long trip with a group of Holt donors who had traveled to see the work — and meet the children and families — they support through their generous giving. Before traveling, the donors also provided the funds to build new gers, or traditional Mongolian homes, for four families in greatest need.
Lhagvajav’s family was one of the four families that received a new ger.
We left our hotel first thing in the morning to drive from downtown Ulaanbaatar to the remote village where Lhagvajav, his wife, Dolgorsuren, and their six children live on a small dairy farm. As we left the city, streets of stone Soviet-era buildings opened up into a broad, open landscape surrounded by rolling brown hills. Most of the families that sponsors and donors support live in the more congested ger communities of Ulaanbaatar. We had yet to visit a family that lived in a rural area, and Lhagvajav and Dolgorsuren’s lone ger sitting on a vast spread of land, under open sky, captured a more traditional image of Mongolia.
As we drove up, an enormous and shaggy white farm dog stood up to inspect us. Lhagvajav saw us from where he stood doing morning chores by the barn, and came over to greet us with a big, warm smile on his face. His wife, Dolgorsuren, welcomed us into her home and offered us warm milk tea and fried bread. Inside the ger, Lhagvajav’s youngest sons were eating breakfast.
One of their sons held in his arms the family’s newest addition, his little sister who peered at us with shining dark eyes. Although cool and crisp outside, the ger felt warm and cozy with the coal stove burning in the center and the warm early morning light spilling in through the doorway.
Lhagvajav and Dolgorsuren seemed so proud of their new home. Framed certificates of ownership sat in prominent display on a table beside the bed, and colorful tapestries hung from each wall. Before donors gave them this gift of a home, Lhagvajav and Dolgorsuren rented a ger from their employer. Like many families in their village, they worked for a wealthy landowner, managing his dairy farm.
Their living situation was temporary, and very unstable.
They produced milk, yogurt and cream for the landowner, and they had to meet a quota to continue living on his farm. They never received a salary, but they could sell or use any of the extra milk or yogurt they produced.
With six children, three of them school-age, Lhagvajav and Dolgorsuren often struggled to afford their children’s monthly school fees, as well as the cost of books, supplies and uniforms. If they could not afford to cover monthly fees or the cost of entrance exams, their children could not go to school or graduate to the next class.
But then, in January, 2016, their lives began to change when Holt sponsors began supporting two of their five boys. With sponsors’ monthly gifts, they could afford to send all of their children to school, and they never had to worry about food, medicine, school supplies or other basic needs.
Seventeen months later, when we visited, you could already see the impact of sponsorship on this family.
That morning, we did not get to meet Lhagvajav and Dolgorsuren’s second-eldest son. Like many boys in Mongolia, he was spending his summer break training to race horses — a traditional, but very dangerous Mongolian sport that draws many of its young riders from families living in poverty. Families that can’t afford education for their children.
Both Lhagvajav and Dologorsuren grew up in poor families, and neither of them made it past junior high in school. But because of Holt sponsors and donors, their children will have more opportunities, and more choices.
“I want my children to get a better education and grow up to be good citizens,” Lhagvajav told us. “Everybody thinks this way. This is a father’s and mother’s dream for their children.”
As we sat in the ger, their oldest son, a 13-year-old boy named Munkhtulga, told us about his favorite subjects in school. He studies three languages, Russian, Mongolian and English, but Russian is his favorite. He told us that he wants to go to college someday, and hopes to become a police officer.
When he found out his family would receive a new ger, he was delighted, he said, smiling shyly.
“My children were so happy. They were shouting, laughing and asking, ‘Mom, Dad, when is the ger going to be built?’” Dolgorsuren said, describing how all of her children reacted to the news they would receive a new ger. “I told them, tomorrow, we will have our own ger. We are to prepare the ground. They were so excited, they quickly spread the sand over the ground.”
Later in the morning, Dolgorusren left us to milk the cows and we stepped outside the ger with Lhagvajav and his children. Lhagvajav picked up his daughter, and snuggled her close. He pulled a blue hoodie over her dark hair to keep her head warm. Her onesie was a bit dirty as gers don’t have running water to easily wash with, and the boys have to walk a long distance to regularly collect containers of water from a well. But she was healthy and chubby, and she giggled in her dad’s arms as he kissed her cheek.
“My heart is pounding with joy,” he said, sharing how he felt about having a new ger in which to raise his children. “I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart Holt International staff and donors for such a wonderful gift — a ger where my children will happily live.”
Lhagvajav told us that he used to worry a lot. The rented ger where they lived before was very run down, and he worried that it would be swept away by wind.
As we drove away, on our last day in Mongolia, we felt so at peace having met this lovely family that now had everything they needed. Their children had everything they needed to go to school. They had nourishing food, and medicine when they needed it. They had piles of warm blankets, and even a small refrigerator that donors had bought them. And most of all, they had a safe, stable home to raise their children.
We returned home, ready to share their story.
Three months later, we received an email message from the director of our programs in Mongolia. Catastrophic floods had destroyed Lhagvajav and Dolgorusren’s ger. We opened the attached pictures to see the inside of their home sitting in a foot of mud and water, the beams of the roof scattered across the floor. Lhagvajav sat in on the rain-soaked bed, his head in his hands.
Fifteen families in their community had lost their homes in the flood. One woman — the mother of a child in sponsorship — died trying to protect her ger.
Thankfully, both Lhagvajav and Dolgorusren, and their children, were safe. But they had lost their home and most of their belongings.
Immediately, we reached out to Holt’s donors — donors who had already given to help this family and other families in Mongolia, and donors who had just learned about them. Together, they raised enough to replace Lhagvajav and Dolgorusren’s ger, and help other families in their community begin to rebuild their lives as well. Through their compassion and generosity, these donors gave these families back what they had lost. Lhagvajav and Dolgorusren committed to doing the hard work of rebuilding their lives, and giving their children the best opportunities in life. Holt donors laid the foundation.
Recently, our staff in Mongolia visited this family at their home. Their ger looks much the same as it did when we visited two years ago. The boys are taller, and their daughter is walking now. They still work on the dairy farm for the wealthy landowner, and Lhagvajav works an extra job in construction to supplement their income. Lhagvajav hopes to own his own cattle farm one day. Although he is saving, the price of cattle has gone up — slowing his progress. But his children are all healthy and in school, and he has a warm and safe home to raise them in. He is a proud and happy father.
Two years ago, standing in the morning sun with his daughter in his arms, he said, “I will always be grateful to Holt International donors and never break their confidence. I will work hard … And I will always tell my children to protect and love their ger.”
He has lived up to his promise.
Robin Munro | Managing Editor