Monday, July 16, 2007

“The Godmother of Mongolia” and her entourage

It's great to have Anika here in Mongolia. Anika Rahman, President, Americans for UNFPA arrived in Ulan Bator just before midnight on Monday night, after an unexpected 7 hour or so wait in the Beijing airport due to flight delays. Nonetheless, we debriefed quickly and arranged to meet at 8:15 for a jam packed day. So jam packed that I didn't get to post this until today.

Tuesday was empowering and enriching. We learned in the morning that our camera crew's TV station was planning on announcing Dr. Munkhuu as honoree of the 2007 International Award for the Health and Dignity of Women on the 6pm news. TV 5 is the leading news medium in Mongolia.

You know the way news clips looks when, for example, a president or presidential candidate makes a day trip to a target state? You see the candidate and his/her entourage walking into rooms packed with people, standing at the podium, shaking hands with dignitaries and locals, being interviewed, ect. Well, apparently the segment that ran on the news yesterday (and again today, I guess, because it was such a top story) was just that—except Dr. Munkhuu, Anika and I were the featured women! I guess the President of Americans for UNFPA plus a leading advocate/politician in Mongolia = Breaking News! Sure, we've all been on the news plenty of times before, but I personally have never been to vividly in the limelight with a news crew follow me for an entire day. I haven't seen the segment yet, but I'm hoping to get a link to the online feed within the next day or two.

We started our day at UNFPA, where we briefed the staff on the background of the award, talked about Ms. Noeun from Cambodia and Mdme. Traore from Niger who will also receive the award, and we gave them the lo-down on the fabulous 3 American Honorees, and the lifetime achievement award winner (Mr. Ted Turner).

From there we went to Gal Golomt National Movement, an NGO that Dr. Munkhuu founded. I thought we were going to meet with 2-3 staff members—so when we walked into the room to see a) the camera crew already set up and filming our walk into the office and b) a room full of forty + women, applauding and standing as Dr. Munkhuu walked through the door. At that moment, before even a word was spoken, it was evident from the emotion in the faces of the women (and one man, actually) that immense admiration and love was felt towards Dr. Munkhuu from women of all walks of life. We heard testimonial after testimonial about Dr. Munkhuu's contribution to the country of Mongolia, her implementation of policies to support women and families, and personal testimonials about the way Dr Munkhu touched there lives both personally and professionally. Have I already mentioned that Dr. Munkhuu's was actually one of the signers of the new Constitution of Mongolia in the 1990s? She showed me a fantastic photo from the signing that really reminded me of the famous photo of our forefather's signing the US Constitution in 1776. The people in the room ranged from age 19 to 85 I'd say. I learned today at the 19 year old, a law student and the youngest member of Gal Golomt , who was clearly one of the organizers of the morning event, is actually Dr. Munkhuu's granddaughter! Also Dr. Munkhuu's son, Dr. Sumberzul, who met me at the airport, is the Dean of the School of Public Health at the Health Science's University of Mongolia! Success and commitment to the health and dignity of women clearly runs in the family!

There is so much to tell you about Tuesday- and it's already midnight and I just got a call from Anika, who informed me that she was making an executive decision for me to go to bed! I promised within the half hour and reminded her that if I urge everyone else to blog consistently on trip, how can I not hold myself to the same standard!!

[Michaela—if you are reading this—I'm reminding you that you should be sleeping at midnight in Malawi—Not blogging. Michaela Maynard is the winner of the 2007 Americans for UNFPA Essay Contest for the Health and Dignity of Women. She was selected from a pool of U.S. college students and will be heading to Malawi the 28th. Her blog will be featured on Marie Claire Magazine's website..and will be cross posted on our site as well. ]

I'll keep my fingers crossed that I can get a copy of the news segment to share with you to get a better sense of our day. In the short term, I'll give you the highlights of the rest of our day:

Next stop. Parliament. We met with Ms. Dolgor, Assistant to the Prime Minister of Mongolia and Deputy Chairman of the National Committee on Gender Equity
à She provided a solid background of Dr. Munkhuu's accomplishments and also spoke about her own work and the Prime Minister's work on behalf of women. She summed up Dr. Munkhuu's achievements as follows. "Dr. Munkhuu fought for women's well being, helped develop a civil society (ie. NGO community) and at the policy level made concrete changes by make sure women's rights issues were a priority."

From there we met with Her Excellency, Minister Tuya.--Minister of Health. She had an incredible presence and I was very taken with her willingness to take time to meet with us, her openness to questions and her support of UNPFA. She also gets my personal award for the best quote(s) of the day. I asked her what set's Dr. Munkhuu apart. She responded: She has very high intellectual capacity, high organizational capabilities, she's indeed a godmother to all of us." She said, you know "like the Godfather movies—she's the godmother.!


I wanted to say, oh my goodness you are the coolest, but instead I said thank you very much for your time! J

Delia Barcelona, UNFPA Mongolia Country Rep, and our host for the week, joined us for this meeting. Though I know that UNFPA does great work around the world, I thought it was very gracious of Minister Tuya to take a moment to publicly acknowledge and praise Ms. Barcelona's commitment and contribution to the country. Having had the opportunity to witness Delia's compassion, commitment and efficiency, I can't help up share with you Minister Tuya's comments. Minister Tuya was explaining how important it is to grasp the different and unique characteristics of countries and regions so you can operate effectively. She continued…"Dr. Barcelona, from the moment she came, has been very sensitive to the unique differences. We love working with her because everything goes very smoothly and effectively." She extended her thanks to UNPFA for bringing these kind of very capable people to come and work with them.

As I hope I've made obvious, Her Excellency Tuya herself was very impressive and I loved that she could mix humor, bestow appreciation to Dr. Munkhuu (and UNFPA), represent the government to us in an incredible fashion, and still hold a powerful presence over the room. (She also had great fashion sense) Together, she, Ms. Dolgor, and the women of Gal Golomt showed me that Dr. Munkhuu's success is not the exception in Mongolia but rather it's increasingly becoming a standard.

Just as we were finishing the meeting with the Minister of Health, one of her colleagues interrupted the meeting and handed her a phone. Next thing we new she said good bye, apologized for having to leave, and was whisked away. Apparently she'd just received a call that the Opposition party was calling for the abolishment of the Cabinet…so yeah, she had some things to attend to! Quite the "West Wing" moment. For the record, the Cabinet has not been abolished…

From there I was able to visit UNFPA project sites—including a hospital, a maternity rest center and a youth health center. The Youth Center was actually modeled after Mount Sinai in NYC. I have TONS to say about the UNFPA sites…But, my half –an-hour before I turn into a pumpkin has passed so I must go to bed.

Happy Birthday Jeanine!

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