Kiwanis Club of Poquoson sponsored the first Kiwanis Club in Mongolia. Based in the city of Ulaanbaatar, the satellite club members are teachers and staff of the Gambileg Chuluunbaatar school for intellectually disabled children. Contact Gambileg Chuluunbaatar (Principal of Vocational School #55) at 13 Khoroo, Bayanzurkh District in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Members of the Poquoson Kiwanis Club satellite committee in Mongolia eat with students at School 55 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (Courtesy Arima Marder)

Members of the Poquoson Kiwanis Club satellite committee in Mongolia eat with students at School 55 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. (Courtesy Arima Marder)

Through Kiwanis, an unlikely connection between Poquoson and Mongolia

The Baltimore Sun

By Marie Albiges

August 31, 2018 at 2:10 PM

About 6,556 miles away from the city of Poquoson sits a school that primarily serves mentally or physically disabled students ages 8 to 18.

Called School 55, the building, which looks like an old barracks, sits in the heart of downtown Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia and home to some 1.4 million people.

The school holds 500 students and 120 faculty and staff who have been receiving school supplies, coats, books, clothing and shoes from the Poquoson Kiwanis Club for the past six years, and who will soon — thanks to the help of Poquosans — charter their own Kiwanis club, the first of its kind in Mongolia.

Spreading the mission

In the spring of 2012, the smell of barbecue lured Arima Marder to Poquoson Kiwanis member Terry Johnson.

Over a meal of pulled pork at the club’s annual pig roast, Johnson shared the mission of Kiwanis — to improve the lives of children — and explained its reach to 80 countries since its founding in 1915 and its local fundraising efforts.

Marder, a Mongolian native who had moved to Poquoson in 2007, wondered — if the goal was to improve children’s lives globally, would Kiwanis be willing to extend its reach thousands of miles to a school she knew needed help?

In the years following that chance encounter, the Poquoson Kiwanis club sent 25 boxes of books, 10 boxes of clothing and shoes, nine computers and seven boxes of school supplies to School 55. The club also dedicated $11,500 to spreading Kiwanis’s mission to Mongolia.

Meanwhile, Marder became a member and used her ties to Mongolia to connect deeper with teachers.

My heart belongs to Mongolia

For almost 70 years, Mongolia was a communist society under the rule of the Soviet Union. In 1990, a democratic revolution was born, and the country is still transforming, Marder said.

Marder said she is part of the first generation to emigrate to the U.S. under this new Mongolian democracy.

“My heart goes to Mongolia all the time,” she said.

The country faces issues of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, air pollution and students dropping out of school.

A 2016 United Nations report found that 66.2 percent of disabled youth — which the U.N. describes as between 15 and 24 years old — are enrolled in education.

The report found almost half of the youth with congenital disabilities have no education or are illiterate. That’s partly because the teachers don’t have the training skills and the institutions don’t have accessible infrastructure.

When Marder was introduced to Kiwanis, she was also introduced to the act of volunteering, and she realized she could use the power of Kiwanis to help children in her native country.

“It opened my eyes,” she said.

She felt it was her mission to spread the word of what it means to give back to her fellow Mongolians, and she began working with School 55’s principal, Ganbileg Ulaanbaatar (her place of origin is used as a last name) to recruit teachers to be part of a Poquoson Kiwanis Club satellite committee.

After the Kiwanis club paid for Ganbileg to come to Poquoson, where she learned about area schools’ special education programs and implemented those programs in School 55, it was Poquoson Kiwanis member Bob Kerlinger’s turn to visit Ulaanbaatar.

“This idea of going out and working, to just give it away, was just totally foreign to them. They’d never seen anything like that." — Poquoson Kiwanis Club member Bob Kerlinger

While there, he recruited 18 members to join the satellite committee.

“This idea of going out and working, to just give it away, was just totally foreign to them. They’d never seen anything like that,” he said.

Once they had embraced the idea of volunteerism, the 18 members were inducted into the Poquoson Kiwanis Club as a satellite committee via video conference with the help of Marder, who was translating for both parties.

“It was just awesome,” Kerlinger said. “To see that it all worked, that it actually happened, was just awesome.”

Next steps

But the work didn’t stop there. The goal was to charter Mongolia’s first club with these 18 new members.

To do that, they needed Kiwanis members a little closer to Mongolia that could provide onsite educational leadership training on Kiwanis.

Since China and Russia, Mongolia’s closest neighbors, don’t have Kiwanis clubs, the Poquoson club turned to the Tokyo club, which agreed to sponsor the Mongolians.

Now, a date — Nov. 10 — has been set for the new Mongolian club will be chartered.

“Step by step — and that’s the beauty of this entire thing — it’s evolved, and we’ve run into an obstacle, and we found a way around it. And in every one of those steps, we’ve found something else, some other way to move in the direction we needed to,” Johnson said.

The future club’s major projects include building a greenhouse that will provide nutritious meals to students as well as teach them how to grow produce.

Members also hope to raise money to purchase prostheses for a few amputee students.

In the months after the Mongolian Kiwanis Club is chartered, Poquoson will continue to help on a project basis and to recruit members, Kerlinger said.

Johnson said back home in Poquoson, club members are excited about the future of the Mongolian club.

“They are proud of what we’re doing,” he said.

Albiges can be reached at 757-247-4962 or on Twitter @mariealbiges.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication

Poquoson Kiwanis Club's unprecedented relationship with a group from Mongolia to help them create the country's first standalone Kiwanis.

Kiwanis Magazine

Story and photos by Jack Brockley

This story originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

Mongolian educators are special in and out of the classroom.

On any ordinary day, students and teachers of School 55 may be howling, growling and meowing. Or they may be kneading bread or tending herbs and hostas. As principal of Mongolia’s largest school for children with mental disabilities, Ganbileg Chuluunbaatar encourages her staff to find creative ways to teach their students. So they practice animal sounds as part of speech therapy and learn life skills and careers by baking bread and gardening.

On any ordinary day, School 55’s staff is extraordinary, as most ordinary teachers are. Outside the classroom, several members of the faculty are members of the Kiwanis Club of Ulaanbaatar, seeking creative ways to serve their community. Using funds raised by selling theater tickets, for example, they have purchased clothing, toys, food and hygiene products for needy families.

And they have built a ger.

A ger is a predecessor of a yurt, a tent designed for nomadic people. The obvious difference between a ger and a yurt is that the latter uses curved poles as framework for both the roof and wall. A ger has a gently sloping roof with straight rafter poles that connect the crown to a lattice wall.

There are many gers in the 14th Microdistrict, a settlement area in the Bayanzürkh District of the nation’s capital. One of these gers is the home of a 69-year-old grandfather and his 13-year-old grandson, Tugsmandakh, who has cerebral palsy. For six years, the fabric-wrapped residence has been part of this densely populated community where coal-burning stoves contribute to heavy winter air pollution.

“Their ger leaks when it rains,” says Kiwanian Ochisuren Batmandakh. “It needs to be dismantled, cleaned and rebuilt.”

On a hot, dry, sunny day, a string of vehicles wanders through the settlement, stirring trails of brown dust. They turn at a shack made of discarded metal and make a sharp turn at a two-story cinder-block house with glass windows. Right turns and left turns, everywhere they go, they stir up trails of brown dust.

Pulling up to a fenced compound, the Kiwanians grab supplies — rags, soap, tools, buckets, tubs — and file through a gate. The grandson, Tugsmandakh, is there in a makeshift wheelchair and greets them with a broad smile. His toddler sister stares with furrowed eyebrows at the strangers, before straddling a tricycle and pedaling furiously to her nearby home. She’ll be back with another brother to watch them work.

One crew unties straps that secure the structure. Other Kiwanians step through the low doorway to move cots, refrigerator, rugs — nearly everything — outside for cleaning. Since there is no running water nearby, they make regular runs outside the compound to refill their fast-blackening tubs.

Within 15 minutes, the ger’s three layers of covering are lifted away from the framework: The outer, leaking canvas and the inner cotton wall are discarded. The middle layer of wool insulation is set aside for reuse. The framework of the ger is exposed:

  • Khana: The circular lattice wall, which can be collapsed for easy transport.

  • Uni: Poles that serve as rafters, connecting the crown to the wall.

  • Toono: The crown, a round, open wooden ring that vents the interior and the stove.

  • Bagana: Two pillars that support the crown.

  • Haalga: A low wooden door that faces south.

The work continues. The uni are pulled from notches in the toono and untied from the khana. A cleaning crew scrubs each uni, the toono and bagana, revealing blue, orange, white and red-swirling designs. They call other workers to view the once-hidden art.

“Beautiful,” one declares.

Within an hour, workers reverse the process, securing the roof poles to the crown, adding a new inner sheet, which is covered with the wool insulation and a new orange outer canvas and cinched tightly with straps. Kiwanians carry clean furnishings inside, along with a new wheelchair, sunglasses, clothing and other gifts for the grandson, grandfather and their neighboring family.

After a hard day’s work at the ger, the Kiwanians have one more stop (above). One of the School 55 teachers had noticed that a student had not been attending class and learned that his grandmother could not afford medicines that controlled fainting episodes. She had to make a decision between the medicine and the care of the boy and two other grandchildren. The Kiwanians visited the home, bringing clothing, food, toys and medicine. As the volunteers dispersed toward their vehicles, their principal called them back. They gather in a broad circle. Looking at every face, Principal Chuluunbaatar commended their work.

“You have made a difference,” she said. “Kiwanis is about helping children, and that’s what we’ve done today. We will continue to help children wherever we find them in need.”

A special ceremony opening the first Kiwanis Club in #Mongolia. This Indianapolis based international organization helps build strong communities through children’s services. Founded by @StateIVLP alumna principal Ms. Tanbileg of school 55, renovated by USA, Canada, and Mongolia.