Our expedition was mainly focused around volunteering at different projects in Mongolia’s capital city Ulaanbaatar, which we did during the week. One of these projects was at the Child Smile Centre, set up primarily to look after the disabled children of single mothers to give them some respite but also more generally for disadvantaged children in the area.
We split into two groups: one ran educational activities using crafts, rhymes and play with the younger children aged 2-5 years old, while the other taught simple English vocabulary and phrases to older children aged 6+ with the help of many games and songs. It involved a lot of planning and hard work, but it was very rewarding to see their rapid improvement. We also helped to build the upper floor of a building by plastering and filling in cracks between the bricks with cement, which included sifting sand and stirring to make the cement itself – when it is finished, it will be used as a place for single mothers to work and earn a small living for themselves to supplement the meagre state benefits they receive.
As well as this, we taught children aged 10-15 years old English at Public School #40 during the school holidays. This gave them valuable one-on-one time and a chance to converse with native speakers that they wouldn't receive in class, and we made sure sessions were enjoyable enough to fuel a lifetime passion for learning English and other foreign languages.
During the evenings and weekends we got the chance to see more of Ulaanbaatar and the more rural parts of Mongolia. Highlights included watching throat singing in a cultural concert, meeting Mongolian Girl Scouts and sharing activities with them (including the Promise and Taps), visiting a family’s ger, playing traditional games with a sheep's ankle bones, seeing beautiful views of Ulaanbaatar from the top of Zaisan Hill, visiting the Intelligence Museum and attempting to solve tricky puzzles, viewing the huge Chiingis Khan statue, riding a camel, sleeping in a ger overnight in Terelj and watching the sunrise over the mountains. We also got plenty of change to try traditional Mongolian food, from Buuz (meat dumplings), Khushuur (meat pastry pockets) and Tsuivan (meat and vegetable noodles) to Ul Boov (a traditional type of hard cake).
Throughout this trip we made so many friends, from bonding as a team to wonderful friendships with the Mongolian children crossing the language barrier. We even hosted an English-style dinner to say thank you to others that had helped us: Nomin and Lkhama from the Projects Abroad team, Bogi who owned the apartment we stayed in and Mr Davaa, our ever cheerful driver. The leaders were so supportive, and you always had someone to turn to within the group if needed. We also learned and developed amazing skills that will help us throughout life, from independence and confidence, to communication and teamwork.
If you ever have the opportunity to take part in a LaSERIO expedition or a similar opportunity, our advice is to never turn it down: it may seem challenging, but you don't know what you can do until you try!