Yargui almost couldn’t return to school because of the additional costs for a mask, hand sanitizer and other school-in-a-pandemic essentials. But thankfully, Holt donors didn’t let these additional costs stand in her way.
On September 1, Yargui and her classmates returned for in-person school in Ulaanbaatar. But she almost couldn’t go. All because of a bottle of hand sanitizer.
This year, children around the world need more supplies than ever in order to attend school. In addition to all the regular items like paper, pencils, uniforms and books, most children also have to provide their own mask and hand sanitizer. Such is the case in Mongolia, where the government requires that every student has their own bottle of sanitizer for school.
This doesn’t seem like much, especially when it costs just $1.33. And it’s an important item to ensure children stay healthy and to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But $1.33 is a huge cost for a family that only makes $30-40 per month.
Yargui lives with her parents and three sisters in a neighborhood of “gers” — traditional Mongolian, yurt-like homes — outside of Ulaanbaatar’s largest garbage dump. This is one of the most impoverished areas in the city, and most of the people who live here — like Yargui’s parents — earn their living in the dump. They search for food, fuel and other redeemable items in the refuse, or they find recyclables that they can sell for a small income. This is how they survive.
Yargui used to go to a formal government school. She’d walk with her sisters down the long, frozen dirt road that led away from their ger home and into the outer limits of the city. But it wasn’t long before her family couldn’t afford school anymore. Yargui and her sisters dropped out.
Ganbaatar’s story is similar. He was born with cerebral palsy and lives with his mother, grandmother and younger sister near the garbage dump. His mother is the sole earner for their family. While he started out in formal school, Ganbaatar had to drop out due to poor health and because his mother could no longer afford to pay for his books, supplies, uniforms and fees.
Enkhtuya’s father is a miner and her mother stays home to take care of her and her younger sister. When she was 5 years old, Enkhtuya was in a car accident that affected her mobility. She also has a learning disability that made school difficult. So when her parents struggled to afford school expenses, she dropped out, too.
“Students here drop out of school almost entirely due to social inequities,” says Paul Kim, Holt’s director of Mongolia and Korea programs, “whether it is poverty, lack of parental education or support, physical distance from school and lack of access to public transportation, because they have special needs, or just because of hopelessness.”
And it’s all too common an occurrence for children in this community.
But Yargui and Ganbaatar and Enkhtuya had a safety net: The Red Stone School. The Holt donor-supported Red Stone school is an informal school tailored exactly for children like Yargui. It’s a safe, warm place for children who live in or near the garbage dump to receive an education, a warm daily meal and the support they need to continue their education. Holt donors cover all the fees and provide all of the school supplies they need.
The Red Stone School is an amazing place. But last March, when the pandemic reached Mongolia, it had to close its doors. And the students lost more than their education.
For most of the students, the free lunch they receive at the Red Stone School is the only real meal they can rely on each day. So when schools closed, they were immediately in danger of going hungry. But Holt donors didn’t let that happen. You acted swiftly to raise the funds needed to provide emergency food and other essentials to families in need.
Throughout the school closure, Holt social workers delivered emergency bags of food and other supplies to the children and families in greatest need. They continued to check on the children, provide educational materials, and monitor how they were doing. Even though they couldn’t go to school, over the past six months you helped to feed and care for children in the best way possible.
Thankfully, children across Mongolia returned to school at the beginning of September. But there was an additional back-to-school obstacle. Children needed masks and hand sanitizer.
There was no way that Yargui’s family could afford hand sanitizer. None of the Red Stone families could afford it. But without hand sanitizer, at just $1.33 per bottle, the Red Stone School would not be able to open.
But once again, there was a safety net: Holt donors. Before school started, Holt donors made it possible to purchase 500 bottles of hand sanitizer for students at the Red Stone School and the other informal schools that Holt supports in Mongolia.
“This simple act will allow them to keep attending school,” says Paul, “and Holt social workers will continue to distribute them as needed.”
For a child in poverty, a seemingly small obstacle can make it impossible to attend school. It could be the cost of a uniform or a textbook or pencils and paper. In this case, it was just a $1.33 bottle of hand sanitizer. But thankfully, the opposite is true, too. Sometimes all it takes is one small act of generosity to overcome an obstacle and change a child’s life.
And now, just a few weeks into the school year, each child at the Red Stone School has big plans and important goals that they’re working toward.
“Yargui likes to go to school and her favorite subjects are painting and physical education,” says Ariunbolor, a Holt social worker in Mongolia. “This year, her goal is to build up her reading and writing skills.”
Ganbaatar loves being the center of attention in class, and is excited to do as many extracurricular activities as possible this year. His teachers think he will make great progress in reading and writing.
“Enkhtuya loves to come to school and is growing in her ability to express herself and be more friendly with the other students,” says Ariunbolor. “Her favorite subject is Mongolian language and she enjoys attending her school’s New Year’s party.”
Thank you for helping to make school possible for these children in Mongolia. You help them overcome every obstacle, and you empower them to have a bright future.
“This school year holds opportunity and hope for a better future for each child at the Red Stone School,” says Paul. “They’ll be in a safe and caring place where they can truly feel cared for and supported. They’ll grow in confidence in their own abilities and gifts, and start on a path to explore and celebrate them. They’ll be in a place where they can be children and not feel the pressures of the world upon them.”
Megan Herriott | Copywriter
Children’s names changed for confidentiality