Oceanside woman sees Mongolia’s challenges first-hand

Yvonne Zarowny encountered people working across religious, cultural, social and political lines to realize a future with hope in Mongolia.

Yvonne Zawrony

Yvonne Zawrony

PARKSVILLE — While in Mongolia this summer, Yvonne Zarowny encountered people working across religious, cultural, social and political lines to realize a future with hope.

The first Mongolian she met upon her arrival was Battulga Tumurdash. Battulga, a journalist and businessman, is concerned that resource-rich Mongolia not go the way of Africa, where its resources were exploited without due benefit to the local people. This concern is reflected in how he runs his numerous businesses which promote authentic sustainable tourism as well as cultural and environmental protection.

Throughout her travels in what are called the remote regions, Zarowny saw evidence of people from different countries and backgrounds working together. For example, the Mongolian wild horse, the takhi, is slowly being brought back to the grassland of the Hustai National Park thanks to Mongolians and Dutch conservationists working together.

Throughout the remote regions are “gers” with solar panels … and satellite dishes. In the ger tourist camps, solar panels are often used to heat water and light the paths as well as windmills to help draw water.

On top of the gers are cheese kurds made from a wide variety of animals’ milk — sun-drying. For variety and to appease tourists, Germans are helping with introducing other methods of making cheese.

Of course there are lots of challenges. Thanks to climate change, Mongolia has experienced four devastating “zuds” in the last decade or so. These fierce storms bring ice and snow.

In reaction, Caritas Mongolia (CM) was formed. Caritas Mongolia is part of a family of Catholic emergency relief and development assistance organizations. The Canadian equivalent is the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace with which Zarwony volunteers.

Although Christians only make up two per cent of the Mongolian population, and of that only 0.6 per cent are Catholic, CM is one of the few NGOs working in the remote regions assisting with projects the herders themselves have requested. In Ulaan Bator (UB) it provides counseling, technical skills training and more. In both the remote regions and UB, CM aids the transfer of appropriate technology so that the people can be increasingly self-sufficient. They assist with similar projects in the numerous “ger” camps, where former herders have moved in the hope of finding work. Outside UB, CM operates a camp for orphans.

However, the window for Mongolia to learn from the mistakes of others and find its own way is closing. The IMF and the World Bank are pressuring it to borrow heavily. If this happens, then Mongolia is on a similar road as many countries in Africa and else where debt is used as a weapon to “encourage” modes of development favouring the interests of global corporations over meeting the needs of the people.

So far the government is resisting.

If you wish to learn more, Zawrony is giving a presentation Mon., Nov. 28 at Church of the Ascension Hall in Parksville.

Doors open 9:30 a.m. Presentation is from 10 a.m. to noon. Admission by donation.

— Submitted by Y. Zawrony