When my profile was matched to Ovurkhangai health Department, Arvikeeir, Mongolia, I had quite a few apprehensions about language, extreme climate and an alien culture. However the fears were allayed sooner than anticipated, as the people were rather friendly and supportive.
Having worked in development sector since 1998, especially for issues related to public health, I have been associated with a consultancy firm working in development sector across the globe before joining VSO.
It was indeed a unique experience to contribute to uplifting of human health, of a society greatly lacking in knowledge of English (especially in my area of work). A dedicated interpreter was the best source to bank upon, to understand the ethos of the men we had to interact, in order to serve them the best. The importance of dedicated interpreter became more significant since none of the team members were well versed at English, this made the experience very interesting as gesticulations and body language skills dominated the process of understanding human minds.
In the scenario it was prudent to learn the culture and make friends so as to better grasp the body language /gestures so as to reach out to the beneficiaries ASAP.Fortunately this worked quite well and a rapport was established easily. Average annual temperatures in Ulaanbaatar remain around 0°C, making it the world’s coldest capital city. Country is situated at higher altitudes and faces dry & windy conditions with prolong winters, short summers.
The EU funded project “Improving health through community volunteering and empowerment” was similar to Indian “National rural health mission” a government of India`s public health program to provide quality health services to un served rural population through community health volunteer called ASHA(Accredited Social Health Activist); hence the goals were strikingly easy to implement. The Project immensely helped me use and sharpen my individual skills however there were times which imbibed self introspection and re-invent the man within. Help and support from the local populace was the best to happen in the interests of the Project success besides I learnt to happily live with barest minimum amenities.
Professionally I enjoyed sharing skills and learning from everyone in contact. This enabled me contribute my best towards developing training calendar, IEC(Information education and Communication) materials for community volunteers and take part in capacity building activities. Field visits to other soums (district), conducting trainings for community health volunteer was really most enjoyable as well as learning experience. Interpreters’ personal lives almost always took priority over their work so they were quite difficult to manage and not always reliable. They didn’t seem to understand that we needed them to be there for the full working day, even if there was no written translation, in case we needed to speak to someone.
To conclude, I am thankful for the opportunity coming my way. The Mongolian friends were so nice that I would like to proudly carry them through the life time. The new culinary learning’s are pallet lingering and the culture unforgettable.
Every Project does leave lessons to learn and prepare for the next opportunity in better professional manner. Availability of a proactively dedicated interpreter will surely make the Project rather enjoyable to implement and helpful to the target beneficiaries.