Report from Mongolia 2013
Arrival at Chingghis Khan International Airport after a very comfortable flight on Turkish Airlines. Immediately upon exiting the airport, Rinpoche was interviewed for Mongolian television and given katas by monks and students. Then we were brought to Lam Rim Monastery where Rinpoche was whisked into a procession of yellow hats, parasols and conches blowing. Hundreds of people arrived to receive blessings and give katas. Rinpoche was smiling away and looked very happy to be there.
Rinpoche gave a teaching to the monks at Bethub Monastery. The temple was full with monks of all ages as well as lay people of all ages. After lunch Tenzing Paljor, a professional Tibetan photographer arrived to accompany Rinpoche to the Family Hospital in the ger area/shanty town of Bayangol District.
The new governor was there to greet Rinpoche accompanied by two female civil servants –the Manager of Social Service of Bayangol District’s Health Department and the Officer in Charge of Health from the Governor’s office. Also the Director of the hospital, Burmaa, and her medical staff. Burmaa gave a slide presentation of Asral’s and the hospital’s long history and their work together. She said she hoped to build more of these district hospital branches in vulnerable areas. The doctors each have families they are specifically in charge of and they visit gers or homes where people are unable to get to the clinic.
Burmaa spoke of equipment they need, specifically mobile diagnostic equipment which the doctors can carry when they are travelling from ger to ger. Rinpoche asked how they got around on their house/ger-calls. They go on foot, these dedicated and hardworking women. Rinpoche explained the situation regarding the collapse of Ireland’s economy and the loss of aid from that quarter and asked which item was the priority for fund-raising purposes. Answer: blood testing equipment, €3,500 (for good Korean make). 15,000 people are looked after by this health centre, covering 2 districts. Mobile equipment will allow them to provide more services to 5 or 6 districts and up to 50,000-60,000 people. They go to ger shelter regions where the most difficult conditions exist.
After the presentation, Rinpoche distributed vitamins to child patients including Down Syndrome children and a boy who had had a heart operation. Then the governor made a speech praising the clinic and promising to support their efforts, quoting a Mongolian proverb that says “if you are healthy you drink water from a golden cup.” At the end of the visit, we were brought to a ger by the doctor who was caring for this family. An elderly woman was bedridden from a stroke and her husband, also in poor health, was caring for her. Rinpoche blessed her and asked questions about her health and her husband’s. Weeping, she attempted to sit up in the bed to meet him but he told her not to. The house was very basic but comfortable.
We moved to ASRAL Centre where Rinpoche was greeted by students and staff, with auspicious signs painted on the ground. Visitors included Prof. Bruce Knauft, Department of Anthropology of Emory University, Atlanta (His Holiness the Dalai Lama is on faculty there) and Director of SARR (States at Regional Risk Project).
Prof Knauft is doing research on NGOs and has recently published a book on same and is planning a second one. He considers ASRAL an ideal model for NGOs as it works from the ground up, similar to micro-economics. Both Bruce and Kate came by chance to visit Asral and were thrilled to be able to meet with Rinpoche. He spoke with them for over an hour. They were utterly impressed and excited by what he said and his attitudes, practical dealing with matters, efforts to keep families together, hiring of Mongolian personnel etc.
Visit to Zaisan Juvenile Detention Centre, a boys’ prison for 14-18 years old, the only juvenile prison in the country, for serious crimes including murder and the problem of repeat offenders. The new warden spoke of changes in line with international children’s rights requirements, e.g. uniform like school uniform, stress on education instead of punishment, a certificate to be awarded at end of education like a state school diploma without mention of the prison, ending the use of the word ‘prison’ and other such negative terms and using positive language to encourage the boys. The educational programme includes creative arts such as painting and drawing, moorinhoor (horse fiddle), and singing.
The new warden wants to get time extended for boys up to 20 years old, so they can finish their education and also because they get stressed and fearful about moving to an adult prison. He says when children commit crimes it is the fault of the family and the family environment. Believes the positive influence of Asral is good for the boys 20-30 boys arriving each year, numbers have dropped drastically from 200 in 1995 to less than 50 now, from different areas of Mongolia.
Rinpoche addressed the boys in a big classroom. He spoke of his first teacher being Mongolian and how well he looked after Rinpoche as a boy, so Rinpoche always feels close to Mongolia. He talked about how everyone makes mistakes and they can change their lives now. If they can use this time to get training and education, there is no reason why they can’t have a good life and a good future. Gave out cards with mantras and chants and taught them how to say them. Then suggested each day when they wake up to say these mantras having made a strong motivation to be a good person and a good citizen.
Then he asked them if they would sing a song for him. The boys all stood up and began to sing, beautiful voices, all in unison, and with each verse their voices grew stronger and more powerful and they put more and more feeling into their words until there were tears in the warden’s eyes. As it turned out, they were singing about their mothers: “Though my mother is far away, she is always with me. She is my sacred one.”