This garbage dump outside Ulaanbaatar is a place where no child should ever be. But the Red Stone School is a way out. These are the stories of some of the children who go there.
Ulaanbaatar’s largest garbage dump is a place where no child should ever be. But children are here. They live in makeshift homes near or just inside the sprawling wasteland of refuse. They search the dump for food to eat, and help their parents search through the garbage for recyclables or other items to sell.
School is out of the question. When a parent can barely afford to feed their child, there’s no way they could pay school fees and purchase uniforms and school supplies. Even if they could, children from the dump would be teased for how they looked and smelled if they went to a traditional school.
But thankfully, there is the Red Stone School.
Since October 2016, Holt donors began offering children a way out of life in the dump. The Red Stone School provides these children with an education, a daily meal and hope for a future. In the beginning, just 17 children attended, but today, there are 50.
These are just some of the faces and stories of children who have attended Red Stone School over the years.
At 9 years old, Munkhbold had never attended school before. Most days, he tagged along with his mom to the garbage dump and helped her dig through the trash — hoping to find food or recyclables, which would typically net them the equivalent of 60 to 75 cents per day. For Munkhbold, his parents, his three siblings and his grandma, home was a cramped summer shed, converted from an old wooden caravan, with uneven slats that let in daylight and dust and, in winter, frigid cold air.
Munkhbold was nervous when he first heard about the Red Stone School — he didn’t want to go. But he ended up loving it.
“That was a great day. I made some new friends,” Munkhbold says about his first day there. He learned how to write, discovered he really likes math, and that his favorite day at school is when they serve dumplings.
Ganbaatar 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. Ganbaatar loves being the center of attention in class at the Red Stone School. He loves doing as many extracurricular activities as possible, and his teachers say he is making great progress in reading and writing.
Tugs-Erdene’s family used to be stable. They used to have enough to eat. But then his father had a stroke. Due to the medical bills and his father’s inability to work, they soon plunged into poverty. In their home near the garbage dump, they lost hope.
But then, Tugs-Erdene and his younger brother began to attend the Red Stone School. They had a safe, warm place to go every day. Every day, they received a nutritious meal. And when a group of Holt donors visited in 2017, Tugs-Erdene and his family received a brand new ger to live in!
“Yargui likes to go to school and her favorite subjects are painting and physical education,” says Ariunbolor, a Holt social worker in Mongolia. “Her goal is to build up her reading and writing skills.”
Munkh lives with his grandparents in a traditional Mongolian ger heated by a coal stove that sits low to the ground and is continually in use — both for cooking and heating. After falling on the stove in the night, Munkh was hospitalized for significant burns on his hands and legs.
But as a Red Stone School student, he already had a Holt social worker who knew him and checked up on him and his family. Because of this, Holt donors helped him receive the ongoing medical care he needed for his burns to heal completely. And now, Munkh is better and back learning at school.
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. But then, she started attending the Red Stone School.
“Enkhtuya loves to come to school and is growing in her ability to express herself and be more friendly with the other students,” says a Holt social worker. “Her favorite subject is Mongolian language and she enjoys attending her school’s New Year’s party.”