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Voices from the Field: Mongolia

  • January 12, 2009

AmeriCares relief worker Zhenzhen Lu shares her experiences from her first trip in the field to Mongolia. Zhenzhen’s work in Mongolia supports at-risk populations including the homeless and orphans.

In Mongolia, the sky is a crystalline blue, the land is wide and vast, and when the wind comes, it comes without mercy.

We arrived in Mongolia on an October afternoon. By 4:00 p.m. dusk was already growing; the air was wintry, and in the distance, 10 miles north of the airport, the city lay under a thick grey haze. A long dirt road led past low mountains and occasional flocks of sheep to the city’s glimmering lights.

One of the strongest memories of the trip was going on a house call for a young patient named Sovd. A 17-year-old girl who suffers from seizures and cannot walk because of birth defects, Sovd lay silent and motionless in her bed. She looked at us with a combination of shyness and curiosity, perhaps wondering why strangers had come to visit.The medicines AmeriCares delivers helps relieve illness, and provides hope, one small step at a time.

The doctor who led our visit told us about Sovd’s mother, who works selling handbags for a meager income to support the family. She doesn’t earn nearly enough to purchase pain relievers that allow her disabled daughter to be comfortable. To make matters worse, her mother’s brother was recently incapacitated, putting increased strain on the family’s already limited resources. There was no word about Sovd’s father.

Next to Sovd’s bedside we saw a bottle of donated pain medicine delivered by AmeriCares the doctor had given her to provide her with some relief. This was the same over-the-counter medicine that we would buy for $3 or $4 a bottle back home. It costs as much as $15 a bottle in Mongolia, if you can get it at all. And an average Mongolian family survives on barely a few dollars a day.

The medicines AmeriCares delivers helps relieve illness, and provides hope one small step at a time. That’s why I’m proud to work to help AmeriCares fulfill its commitment to supporting people like Sovd, and so many more like her, during these increasingly difficult times.

I brought a lot of memories home from this, my first trip to Mongolia. I can still hear children at the orphanage giggling when they received the toys we brought them. In the chilly air, with the coming of winter, there was a certain sorrow, which I would remember vividly when my gaze was met briefly in the corridors and hallways of the hospitals which we would visit in the days to come.

Leaving Mongolia, there was much on my mind – from the unspoken pains that come with illness to the harsh living conditions which so many endure. I am all the more thankful for our local partners at AmeriCares. Our long-time partner, Fraternité Notre Dame, established an orphanage for abandoned children, a supportive housing settlement and various community programs for the homeless and the poor. Soon we will be sending our next shipment to Mongolia; I now also have a long list of needs for medicines and supplies compiled from the many doctors and nurses we met on this visit. Time to get to work.

~Zhenzhen Lu