Monday, July 16, 2007

1.5 people live per square kilo in Mongolia-- imagine life without neighbors!

Mongolia is one of the least densly population countries. The population is about 2.6 million. There are 1.5 people per square kilometer in the country. At the same time, Ulan Bator, the capitol, is very crowded. 45% of the population lives in UB and there are actually 205 people per square kilo in UB. From one point five people to two hundred and five from urban to rural. In the rural areas, who do they borrow egg or milk from if they need some in a pinch?!
I asked why we are taking two cars to the rural area on Thursday and it's because the areas are so remote that its too dangerous to go alone, in case you have car trouble, etc.
The Western region, where Dr. Munkhuu grew up, is the area of the country with the largest nomadic community and the least resources. She grew up in a herder family. She witnessed the daily list of responsibilities-and saw how even a day after giving birth, women (including her own mom) were back in the fields, tending the livestock and caring for the family. UNFPA has programs in 5 of these western provinces focusing on reproductive health and Dr. Munkhuu is amongst the many people now making sure that women in these communities have access to better health care. Still there is way more work to be done. The maternal mortality rate in urban areas are 93 per 100,000 (is 45 per 100,000 in the U.S) versus 380 per 100,000 in the rural areas.
I learned more today than I have in a long time, and what i've mentioned above barely scratches the surface. My brain is still digesting. One thing is clear. Dr. Munkhuu has influenced the lives of so many. Her impact is long standing- both for the success of the country and the growth of individuals.
Enkhjargal, a UNFPA colleague who first worked with Dr. Munkhuu almost 25 years ago in parliament, says that any time she has a big issue that she needs to discuss, personal or professional, Munkhuu is the first person she turns to. Undarya, National Coordinator for MonFemNet, the Mongolian Women's National NGO Network told me that Dr. Munkhuu's leadership in organizing the first national conference on family planning in 1990 is what lead to the liberalization of family planning. Her creation of a Women's Federdation (rather than the former Communist Women's Committee) opened the door for collaboration with women's movements of the opposition's political parties. Bulgan, a young associate at UNFPA, talked about how impressed she was with the way Dr. Munkhuu cares for her family, alongside her numerous political, NGO, and UNFPA commitments. She showed me a picture of her 11 month old baby and said she hopes that her daughter will grow up to have the compassion and accomplishments of Dr. Munkhuu. My camera crew and I stopped by a monestary and the gate keeper let us in with open arms when he heard that we were filming landscape shots of Mongolia for a video featuring Dr. Munkhuu. Her influence is more far reaching than I could have imagined.
The socialist - democratic transformation of Mongolia is enlightening. When I asked Dr. Munkhuu what made her decide to be a doctor, she explained that it wasn't really her choice; it was the socialist government's government moved her to policy work and then made her leader of a youth movement, and eventually to Parliament. She explained even though the choice was not her own, it was a great honor to be selected by the government to play such roles. She in turn gave 100% to every project assigned. She draws very much on her personal experiences and prioritizes sharing the lessons and fortune of her own life with the wider community.
Days are long in Mongolia. Both in terms of sunlight and the hours people work. It's 8:15pm now and its still bright as ever and the sun isn't expected to go down for a while.
I need to go practice all the new names I've learned. Interestingly, business cards say the only the intial of your last nam and your first name. So Dr. Munkhuu's would read D. Munkhuu-- D stand's for Dorj, her dad's name but it's not carried on. Even when you get married you always keep your own name, your first name.
Oh and get this, the reference I made to Lincoln Memorial yesterday; the Genghis Khan memorial is actuallly modeled after it! Who Knew!

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