Dreams Expand for Mongolian Woman with Disabilities

Gantuya Bazarsuren

Gantuya Bazarsuren at work in her new office
MANDALGOBI, Mongolia—As a child, Gantuya Bazarsuren dreamed of becoming a gymnast. But at age 13, while descending a flight of stairs carrying a container with water, she fell, injuring her legs so badly that she could no longer walk unaided. She was able to graduate from high school only with the help of her parents and teachers, who carried her to and from school and classes.

In the Central Gobi town of Mandalgobi, where Gantuya lives—and throughout much of Mongolia—negative perceptions of the disabled often prevent them from getting an education and joining the workforce.

There are 115,000 registered people with disabilities (PWDs) in Mongolia, according to the Ministry of Social Welfare and Labor. However, no general education schools, colleges, universities, or technical/vocational or training centers are accessible for PWDs in Mongolia. Currently, 146 teacher-training colleges and universities do not have standards for disability training or how to work with children with a disability.

After many years of practice, Gantuya mastered the use of crutches, but she remained isolated, alone, and mostly homebound.

In 2009, things began to change. She discovered programs that are part of USAID's Fostering an Inclusive Environment for Local Disabled (FIELD) Project, implemented by Mercy Corps. She began participating in trainings about NGOs, business-plan development, and disabled peoples' rights.

Since its inception in January 2009, the FIELD project has trained over 2,650 disabled people in Mongolia. In December of that year, project leaders advocated successfully for approval of "National Standards for Accessible Construction and Walkways" by Mongolia's State Department of Measurement and Standardization. As a result of the campaign, 23 accessible ramps already have been built by government and private sector agencies at their own cost, and several agencies have also modified their facilities to accommodate the needs of PWDs.

The FIELD trainings increased Gantuya's understanding of her situation and her potential. But much more important to her was the regular contact with other people and with the public, which gave her confidence and made her daily life more and more pleasant. She says that her participation in the trainings was helpful because she finally understood: “I can do something to improve my own situation.”

Gantuya did not go to university because she thought she would not be accepted by the other students. She now regrets that difficult decision.

“When I was a kid, I had many dreams, but I forgot about them while I spent so many years at my home. Now I’ve started remembering my dreams again and I want to be a writer,” said Gantuya.

A few months after the FIELD project started, Gantuya began to reintegrate into the local community. After completing a computer skills training course, she began working for a Mongolian NGO. She now earns an income and heads a disabled peoples’ group in Mandalgobi where participants are trained and exchange information.

It is a dream come true for Gantuya, who now says, “I’m no longer afraid to walk down the road anymore.

Source:USAID and Mercy Corps Mongolia (www.usaid.gov/press/frontlines/fl_sep10/p06_mongolia100914.html)
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