Families in rural western Mongolia live on the edge, susceptible to famine as soon as the climate shifts or a dry spell hits. UNICEF's Family Empowerment Strategy program gives people the voice and the ability to demand the social services they need to improve their living conditions.
Huddled against the harsh terrain, a family in western Mongolia must fend for itself to survive. Life in this household revolves around livestock. With 500 heads of camels, yaks and other cattle to care for, children take up the tasks of rearing animals from an early age. They are ethnically Kazakh, as are the vast majority of those who live in Mongolia’s westernmost province, a mountainous wedge between Russia, China and Kazakhstan. As long as their water continues to flow, and their animals have enough grass to feed, Ukesh and his family can support themselves. But they remain at the mercy of an unpredictable climate, where a dry spell could mean disaster.
We must conserve as much hay and fodder as we can so we can to get through the winter. But some years when there is a drought we have to buy hay from the market. Another problem is that our children cannot find jobs in the provincial capital, so they must stay here and work as herders.
The disparity between urban and rural areas in Mongolia has widened dramatically as the country has moved from a socialist system to a market economy. In many rural areas, access to education and safe water and sanitation is limited. The cost of providing social services to a population dispersed over a vast territory is extremely high. But in small gatherings across the country, there are signs of change. Parents and local leaders are coming together to identify what their communities need, and discuss what they should do to get it. In this house near the town of Zavkhan, social worker Erdenechimeg explains to local herders how they can improve their living conditions, and boost the health of their children. This UNICEF-supported Family Empowerment Strategy aims to create new demand for basic social services and help local and national governments coordinate efforts to raise the quality of these services.
ERDENECHIMEG [Social Worker]
Families realize that they are not just passive recipients of those essential services. They understand that they can participate in the provision of these services and they can demand these services. And this is helping to bring families together to solve problems in a joint manner.
It's a role that community leaders are eager to play.
NYAMAA [Community Leader]
We’ve learned that if we put into practice all that we’ve learned, then our children will grow up healthy and educated. And we tell our children that when they get older they should pass this same knowledge on to their children.
Giving families the power to speak up about their own needs and have a voice in designing their future. In Ulgii, Mongolia, this is Steve Nettleton reporting for UNICEF Television. Unite for children.