Medicine & Healthcare in Mongolia by Jenny Gunther
First Impressions of Mongolia
The first thing that hit me about Mongolia was the traffic. Taxis, dogs and pedestrians zigzagged across the pothole filled Mongolian ‘motorway’ amidst a concert of screeching horns - it was then I knew that this really was going to be an adventure!
The formality of the “sain baina uu” (Mongolian for good day) when I first met my host family quickly melted into smiles, joking and laughter - possibly encouraged by the faces full of water from my mischievous host brother’s water gun! Some of my fondest memories are of the play wrestling and games we played in the evenings after I got back from volunteering. There’s no way you can ever feel like you belong more in Mongolia than living with local people. I truly did see them, and still do see them, as a second family.
My Medical placement
My first work placement was in a hospital, a short bus journey away. I had a lot more opportunities than I would have had in an English hospital, seeing as I was only 17 years old and had very little experience.
My average day began with several gruesome operations, followed by an English lesson with my legendary shadow doctor before folding bandages, eating a massive lunch, then ward rounds where I actually got to give a few injections. The nurses were shy but so lovely if you made an effort to try and talk to them - my Mongolian was poor so we got on fine just constantly smiling at each other!
I love the Mongolian people; they are so sincere but open and humorous. I got completely lost on my first night and asked a local Mongolian for directions - I ended up with a band of about 15 helpers from young boys to old women each pointing different directions to my apartment! I also had great fun with the other volunteers who I saw practically every day when we met up for meals, drinks and sightseeing. It was relaxing to be able to have some decent English banter after so long!
Mongolian Nomad Project
There is no greater contrast to the hustle and noise of the capital Ulaanbaatar than the peaceful, empty windswept steppes a dozen miles down the road. I don’t think I have ever seen so much sky. When I arrived, loads of the nomad children appeared out of nowhere and showered me with flowers and took me inside the ger (portable Mongolian hut) to meet my host mother who is the kindest woman I have ever met.
Most of the time I lived in her home I was helping her out with the daily tasks such as milking, cleaning the ger, cooking, collecting water from a hole in the ground and herding the cows on horseback.
I also had a lot of free time which I spent playing basketball with the nomad children, swimming in the river, visiting other gers and generally thinking and re-evaluating the important things in my life. Some of my ‘favourite’ delicacies were blow-torched marmot and horse bladder!
I was also lucky enough to be able to volunteer in a state orphanage in a small village. This was by far the most demanding and psychologically challenging of my experiences; there were many children and the nurses often didn’t have time to give them the love and attention they craved for.
I mostly spent the days trying to amuse and control a group of twenty 3 year olds all trying to hug me and play with my watch at the same time. I helped the nurses change nappies, make the beds and feed the children.
The room was basic but I shared it with two amazing but crazy volunteers from Germany and Australia and I have many happy memories of my time there. In the capital I visited a private orphanage; the children were much happier here and we had great fun teaching them some Indian dancing.
I had always loved dreaming of adventures and far-off places, but a dream is nothing compared to a memory. Mongolia really is a place and a people that I shall treasure for the rest of my life.