I met Baagii when I helped at Special Olympics in September with other volunteers. Baagii was extremely motivated, had great ideas, was funny, and of course, had superb English skills. Since then, Valerie and I have eaten curry at her apartment (cooked quickly by her husband) and have jointly submitted a grant proposal for a sexual reproductive health education course for high schoolers from all five secondary schools in Arvaikheer. We’ve also gone out to karaoke with others for another volunteer’s birthday. Baagii is a great person to help with connections in the community or just to talk to for fun. Here she is!
*The following responses have not been changed to preserve personality and voice*
- What is your full name? What does it mean?
Battsetseg Goitiiz. My last name is strange because some people think it is Chinese or Russian. When my father was born, the monks told my grandmother to give my father a strange name so he would survive. He had 15 siblings who all passed away. He is an only child. My name’s meaning is “strong flower.” It is a popular name in Socialism. Some people get their name from their parents, or the monks, but mine was from the hospital. I used to not like my name because it was so common, but now I like my name because if you try, you are your own person. Your name does not define you.
- Please describe your family. What do you like to do together?
I have four children, 6 members. As a family we like to travel. We go to countryside and nice places. Usually we like to go in the trees and to the river. We usually go to the waterfall. And the neighboring province Arkhangai. We usually go to Kharkhorin because my husband’s brother used to live there. We have cook and picnic, and we really like to eat the food we cook outside. Because of the wind, the taste is very different, and the campfire. That maybe makes more delicious. And most important thing is spending time together. My in-laws really like to sports. Every time we go there we take a volleyball. Even we don’t have the net, we pass the ball. Second thing we like to do is we cook together. Even my daughter helps, and my son peels the vegetables. I like to help my husband, Byambadorj Baatarsuren, cook because I am the helper and he is the chef. We talk, and we laugh.
- What is your role in the community?
My profession is English/Russian teacher. Over 10 years, I didn’t do my professional job. I just worked in 11 years in international NGOs: World Vision, Save the Children. NGOs help the whole community not like targeting few people. They want to bring sustainable development to the community. The last project I worked on focused on herder children. We focused on 10 soums and traveled. We worked with 5-year-old children. The children can’t go to kindergarten. They have to stay with their parents. We developed a sustainable curriculum for parents to become the teachers, and the children are the students. Children are happy because their parents are their teachers. It helped develop the father’s role in the family because he has time to teach while the mother cooks and he has finished herding the cattles. The fathers have to drive the motorcycles to the centers to pick up the materials and have training for their children, but now they are involved and can stay at home. Before they didn’t talk to their children. They just herded the animals or in the summer they visited their friends and drank airag. This is just one outcome of our project.
We also helped dormitory children and drop out children of the herder families. So I really like this first outcome because their parents become their teachers. It is called a mobile library. We set in the school library. Children can play there, all books there, and every time they come there, they bring their whole package (10 books and 3 games), and they have to come back 10 times to exchange the packages. That way they can read 100 books and 30 games to improve their IQs and become ready for school. This is school readiness program like this. When they are in first grade, they can sit down and listen to the teacher. Compared to other students who graduated kindergarten, they are more independent. The parents read them the books, and they respond and can talk. Before, On September 1st, they were shy, not talkative, not independent, they don’t sit down for a long time, they hide. This project helped them improve their skills. Most important thing is parents’ involvement. Now the parents come to ask teacher how they are doing. Before parents only came in at quarterly breaks. Now they are very different, they pay attention, they cooperate with the teacher “how is she doing, how can we help”. The dormitory teachers say they changed a lot.
- How do you start an NGO? Why did you decide to start an NGO?
In this September, my project ended. This project implemented successfully. They decided maybe no need to continue because it was sustainable. So the project ended, and I didn’t have a job. I decided I could maybe still help the community youth maybe to develop, to teach them, become more skillfull. And then maybe if the community members want to cooperate with me, I would love to share my knowledge and skills. I like to say “knowledge is not knowledge until we share”. I really wanted to share my experience from NGOs. Also, I want to improve the young people’s English skills. Now English is very important if they want to study abroad or even if they want to travel to other countries. They need to communicate. If they cannot talk or communicate, maybe they face difficulties. These days the young people really understand how important to learn language. Maybe if someone really wants to learn English, I am open to help. If they want to apply for scholarship programs, maybe I can help. Why I choose adults and youth? Because one guy came to me and said he could not find a place like this for youths. Everything is just for children. After they finish college and universities, they come back here and really want to apply for some programs but they really need some help. So my focus is for adults. Some organizations want to learn English as a team. They want to improve themselves to write projects.
- I remember you studied abroad. How was that experience?
In 2002, I went, and then I come back in 2005. About 3 years in Denver, Colorado. That time there were many Mongolians in Colorado. Now there are a lot in DC, Washington DC where my brother and sister live. That time I studied in an English class. I took an evening English class. Daytime I worked. That helped me practice, more speaking practice. I used to work in a souvenir and gift shop. The owner was Korean, so he helped me work part time. Because I’m not allowed to work using my social security number.
- How does the workload for men and women compare in Mongolia?
It’s like Mongolian tradition, most people think in the family, men usually do outside work, herding cattle, preparing woods for the fire, more hard works. And usually women stay home and clean home, taking care of children, cook, making milk products. It’s a lot of work, especially in the summertime. Now in the countryside it’s still the same way. But in the aimag centers and UB now it’s changed. Because women and men both work, they have jobs. But when they come home, they still think old traditions. But women work, but then they come home and do housework and clean and laundry. Weekends are crazy.
It’s different in my family. Of course, my husband doesn’t clean or laundry, but he really loves to cook. I just think I’m lucky because he really likes to cook. Weekdays, he cooks 3 or 4 days. So I only have took 2-3 days, so I just help him to cook. It makes my work easier. When I worked in the project, it made me easier. He cooked and took care of the child. I had to travel for two weeks to collect data and evaluations. We participated in many trainings so I usually go to UB, but now I don’t really travel. So my husband stays home, took care of children. And the good thing is I have two daughters are big now, so they help in housework. But I don’t like that old tradition. Even my friends, they have old traditions. Wives complain and compare with my husband. “You don’t cook, and he cooks!”
- What hardships do you think women face? What about men?
In Mongolia, most parents usually they used to think girls should study, boys are okay. If the girls are not educated, if they marry someone, the husband will think “you’re not educated”, relationship is not good. That’s why they sending mostly girls to the universities. Long time ago it started. Now the whole community men, are not well educated. No university degrees, no jobs because they are not well educated. Most women work. Why? Because they don’t send the boys to the universities. Why the men drink? They don’t have job, they have nothing to do, they don’t have professions. This is the problem for Mongolian community. They have nothing to do. Even they don’t have business skills. But some good guys I can tell. But mostly they don’t have a good education. I cannot say it’s their fault. Their parents did not let them study in the university. So the wives say “I am working, I make money”, so they are starting to not respect men. But men think they are main person in the family, but their wives are not starting to respect the main person. So they do not respect each other. It influences for divorcing. Drinking and no job. If they both work, they both should think it’s their responsibility to pay their children’s education to earn money. If the husband just stays home, it’s not also women’s fault. Now women leaders are becoming more because men didn’t go to universities. Before men were well educated. Women are becoming more involved in the politics.
There are other hardships of women. My dad is disabled. He was in accident when he was 27 and lost his one leg. He has wears fake leg. My mother is very strong woman. She grow up 4 children by herself because my dad can’t work. Three girls, 1 son, all educated. Even my younger sister studied in US in college. She graduated SAIS at John Hopkins University. My mom paid tuition for us. And my sister had scholarship for studying in US. Because some women are very strong, they take care of whole family if husbands are not able to or sick. My mother was the only person who work. Husband and son were disabled. We 3 sisters were little. I am very proud of my mother. She is very strong woman.
Now Mongolia starts campaigns and phone numbers to call for domestic abuse. I know the place, National Anti-Violence Center, they have a shelter house there. Usually the women who have problems stay there and live there with their children. In a small town it is difficult. We cannot hide. The husbands find the place. Now family law started. If the husband does something, they call the police, and the law is strict now. It helped, because men think they cannot do this because if the family calls to the police, they will be in trouble. Because of the alcoholism and not good educated. don’t have any job.
- You worked with us for Special Olympics. Why did you get involved?
I know that disabilities class teacher, Pujee, from a long time ago. I used to cooperate when I worked with World Vision. We provided instrument for the children. I met her about 2007, 2008. This year I heard about Special Olympics from volunteers. I like to help in these social activities because of my family. My older brother is deaf. He was not born deaf but got sick when he was 3 years old. The doctors did not diagnose the real sickness, and they did the wrong treatment. But I don’t want to blame the doctors. We are very close age. He is two years older than me. We have grown very close. We used to live in town, but he had to live in UB. There is only one school in Mongolia for deaf students: School 29 in UB. All disabled students go there: deaf, blind. In summer vacation he came to stay with us. He taught me sign language. I understand how difficult for deaf people to become friends with others because they don’t understand him. Children don’t understand him, they don’t want to become friends. This problem I understand from my childhood. So I really like to help these activities. I gladly accepted this. We helped.
- How do you think people with disabilities are perceived and treated in Mongolian society?
This is the problem. Why my brother left to US. He is very good at learning things. He was very good at sewing and making boots in UB. Usually disabled students are good at doing something: carpenter, sewing, making boots. He used to work, hired in one place, they think they didn’t need disabled people. He tried to do taxi driver. When people come in his taxi, he drives well. But he uses hearing aids. They have to write down because people don’t know sign language. But when he asks nicely to write down the address, people just leave. But some nice people of course. It’s not making good money. Some want rides, some don’t want. Maybe same problems, he starts doing nothing, so he’s not good condition. He come to family members and gets mad. He was married and had two children I think. His wife was complaining because husband was not doing good, start drinking. My younger sister that time used to live in US, so she decided to help him. He applied to Gallaudet School, very famous school for deaf people. He applied and they invited him. We all wrote a letter to the embassy; my sister wrote to the embassy from the US, I wrote to the embassy in Mongolia. So he got a visa. We are very supportive. Now he’s living there for 8 years. Now wife went there, two children went there. He is happy to live there, people hire him. Now he is taxi driver in US. He used to work in place that makes stone, but it was difficult, very heavy so he had back problem. So he left, and is at taxi. He likes to drive. Now he is not drinking. He likes to live in US with family members. He is very happy. In Mongolian society, it is difficult for deaf people to find a job. They don’t provide support. Now they do things like Special Olympics, but a long time ago it wasn’t good.
- What would you like people to know about Mongolia and/or Mongolians?
I really love my country It’s like a beautiful nature. Blue sky, green land. We have a lot of good history. I’m really proud of telling other people. Also people are very nice I just think. They’re very polite. They like to welcome people. They very easily get friends with others. Even people who don’t speak English or other language very easily become friends using sign language. Mongolian people are very friendly, sociable, and open. At first they are very quiet, but when they become closer, we are very talkative. My observation, when I lived in US, there are many people from countries there: Morocco, Korea, Japan, and Russia. In the class there were two Mongolian students except me. We were very fast at learning quick. The teacher said we are quick. Even my friends who don’t have skills for cooking got hired at the restaurant for cooking. Mongolians get very used to learning things. We need to do this, we need to try, very brave.
I think Mongolians are very good at directions, we always know where south is, north is, west is, east is. And we’re good at predicting the weather because of our ancestry. They look at the sky at night and know that tomorrow will be warm or windy or blizzard. This way they can herd the cattles like very well. If the sun goes down and the red color comes up, then tomorrow will be very warm. Using nature, nature things, we can predict weather.
- What are your goals and dreams for the future?
Now I am 39. I really want to learn new things. Now even I have 4 children, I am already 39. I really want to study abroad. I want to study Masters in US. But in order to do that, I need to prepare. A lot of things. So maybe someday I hope my dream will come true. I think I worked for a while, now I need a break, refresh, and earn new skill. I have some experience of course but still, it’s never late to study. I want to help also others, young people to become and have good dreams. It’s not like, I like to say, “stop dreaming, start doing”. People who want to study abroad, I can help. Also myself. I have children. My daughter is 12th grade. My dream is to help them, profession, good skills, study well, as a mother, to get their education, in US or other countries. I also want to build a school that all classes are taught in English.