Landlocked between Russia and China with a population of some 3 million people, 30% of whom are nomadic or semi-nomadic, Mongolia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. About 45% of the population lives in Ulaanbaatar, the coldest capital of the world.
Going Up – Going Down
Since the collapse of communism in the 90s development has blossomed but so has the gap between the rich and the poor. Rural people still move to the city for jobs and money but often their hopes are dashed. Poverty, unemployment and lack of education cause a host of social problems such as depression, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and crime. With limited social assistance, people become overwhelmed by problems and quickly lose hope, ending up on the streets and homeless.
In Ulaanbaatar today there are currently about 5,000 homeless people, not just because of poverty, but also the loss of a close family member, relational problems, mental illnesses or the loss of possessions due to fire or natural disaster. They suffer from wounds and illnesses, harsh living conditions, no proper place to sleep, lack of food and a mindset of hopelessness. The circle is vicious and they experience social isolation and exclusion due to their appearance, smell, and alcohol problems. Most don’t have ID cards so are unable to find employment or receive proper medical attention.
How to Survive
For most homeless people there is no other way of earning an income other than by collecting empty bottles, which they hand in at recycling points that are located in the nine districts of the city. To survive the harsh climate many of the homeless sleep in manholes where the city’s hot water pipes are located as a way to keep warm during the long, bitter winters. They lack everything: from basic food to medical care and hospitalization and even the possibility of improving their condition; but worst of all, this is not a government priority.
Alcohol rehabilitation centres receive homeless people but the threshold for a homeless person to admit themself on their own initiative is very high, as they do not know anyone there and are influenced by negative stories or thoughts. Centres are not reaching out to build relationships with the homeless first, and even with self-admission prejudice against them is strong, which makes for a bad start. Time, relationship and trust are crucial for people to take steps towards change and Sergelt Ood is seeking to provide this through our drop-in bus program.
Why Rehabilitation Centres?
Rehabilitation centres are indispensable as the first step towards recovery but do not prepare people to offer their clients sufficient preparation or opportunities for life after their centre. It is almost impossible for people to build a new life in society once they leave the rehab centre as many who finish treatment still lack a suitable and alcohol-free job, a place to live and a social network. Support from the government in the form of temporary unemployment or social benefits – help with finding a proper job, housing or vocational training is unavailable. Jobs are rarely given to social outcasts, and often employers misuse people’s weak position. Consuming alcohol is normal at many workplaces and there is much pressure from colleagues to join in consuming. All these circumstances soon lead to discouragement, relapse and a return to life on the street (thus our aim to start a reintegration program).
Building Relationship – Changing Lives
We are building genuine relationships with addicted, homeless people as a launching pad for change by hearing them and offering basic care and assistance. A “Drop-in Mobile (bus) Project” will provide a low-key meeting place offering first-aid and follow up care, washing facility, meals, vitamins, haircuts, second-hand clothing, healthcare access, visits to the sick, financial assistance for medical aid, family mediation and links with alcohol rehabilitation centres.
From Counselling to Citizenship
There is more to effective change though. We seek to contribute to reducing the number of people that relapse and return to the streets after addiction treatment by setting up and implementing a Reintegration Project to prepare homeless people who successfully underwent alcohol rehabilitation to return and stay in society. Secondly, to contribute to a faster flow of new clients entering addiction centres and those who have finished treatment leaving for their next step towards independence, instead of lingering for years.
Sergelt Ood is working to:
- provide care, attention and recognition of homeless people in Mongolia by building genuine relationships with them leading to change;
- empower them to take steps out of homelessness and addiction, and
- provide post-rehabilitation assistance to relocate people in society again.
You can Help
If you would like to join us in transforming lives in Mongolia you can contribute using the donate button below. Thank you.
Please NOTE: This project was previously coded as MNG-018 and any funds that were deposited for that will now be transferred to this on-going project.