Amid the desolate hillsides outside Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia is a place no one should call home. It is the city’s largest garbage dump, where hundreds of families reside, making a living from the refuse. Until recently, the children of this impoverished community mostly avoided school — fearing bullying and discrimination. But now, for the first time, they have a safe space to learn, where they are loved and embraced by everyone.
Hop in the car. We have somewhere to take you.
You’re in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia — an arid tundra and bustling city, home to the largest concentrated group of people in this historically nomadic country. It’s icy cold outside. But now, you’re fastening your seatbelt in the backseat of an SUV and driving up into the crisp air of the hillsides just outside the city.
As deep ruts turn the car nearly 45 degrees, you hold onto the door to try and keep yourself upright. Dust billows outside your window where you begin to see plastic bags spotting the scraggily roadside — more and more of them the farther you drive.
The car summits one last hill and you see your destination — a concrete and wire fence enclosing a space of several square kilometers, every foot of it overflowing with trash.
You are at Ulaanbaatar’s largest garbage dump. But to the families and children you are coming here to visit, this place is home.
“It’s brutally magnificent in its desolation,” says Paul Kim, Holt’s director of Mongolia and Korea programs. “It takes your breath away, but in a really sad kind of way.”