Mission to Mongolia Woodbridge Nurse Fiona Greig spent just over a month working with disadvantaged groups in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia (pop around a million). Soviet-style apartment blocks in Ulan Bator Below are some of her impressions and experiences, extracted from emails home to friends and family during her trip. ‘On arrival I was met by Zolboo, a lovely chap who was to be my translator during the trip. I am staying with a non English speaking family in a 6th floor apartment in a Soviet style block that really is as bad as it sounds. Ulan Bator is noisy, polluted, filthy and disintegrating. The smog hangs in the air and chokes you on bad days when the cloud is low and the surrounding mountains trap the smog in the city. In winter the temperature regularly drops to -30C and Ulan Bator has the lowest average temperature of any capital city in the world. The city is surrounded (like a ring doughnut) by ger (yurt) encampments (think Mumbai slums) that all use coal- fired stoves to keep warm. This makes the smog even worse.’ ‘I am the first professional placement they have had so they threw everything they could think of at me. By the end of day three I had been given at least six projects to do. Teaching in the Emergency Medical Aid center, providing health care to destitute market kids, working with street children, something with street cleaners, providing health care to the ger community, smoking cessation to truck drivers and teaching healthy living to parents in a kindergarten (average life expectancy is about 56 and all the kids are stunted and iron deficient).’ ‘I had to tell the Managing Director that I wasn’t Superwoman and could I have some clear aims and objectives. I’ve got him to concentrate on two main projects that are already precariously established - providing healthcare to street kids and underage and vulnerable child workers in the market (7-8 year olds).’ I visited the Police Detention Centre where they take street children. There are about 40 at any one time ranging from 3 to 16 but I did see two toddlers there who had been abandoned. Many of the children, especially those with learning difficulties had been thrown out by their families but many had run away, often because of physical/ sexual abuse. Possibly the most depressing thing was seeing these children huddled together on a hard floor, watching TV in what is euphemistically called the Play Room. This is where they are herded during the day and supervised by a police officer/warden in case they run away. There were no toys, no books - nothing but the blaring TV. And there is virtually no government funding to keep them. So they rely on charity hand outs, pretty much.’ ‘Regarding the teaching sessions for the Emergency Medical Centre they have given me a laptop which helps a lot. I am putting three sessions together in English with a Mongolian translation on the side. ‘ ‘I was invited to go to a street cleaners medical check visit which the emergency centre doctors do twice a year. I had no idea what to expect and went along for the ride. The street cleaners are very, very poor and have many health problems trying to keep a city as polluted and filthy as Ulan Bator clean. Several trestle tables were set up with medics either side and the cleaners, male and female, trooped in, stripped off and were given a fairly perfunctory medical examination. No privacy, no bedside manner, no dialogue - but they got through a lot very quickly. A typical example of the Soviet-style approach to medical care that is still prevalent. As in Russia, the vacuum caused by the demise of Communism has led to rampant corruption. Government officials take a minimum 50% cut of any aid funding that comes their way. And nothing gets anywhere without bribes. Unfortunately, I was left feeling that giving money to such a dysfunctional country was probably a waste of time. Until the leaders of the country face up to their problems, and challenge and eradicate the systemic corruption, nothing will improve and their people will continue to suffer.