In youthful naivety I always imagined a preference for having a son over a daughter, but that was turned on it's head during my stay at Lotus. The center is at the moment 2/3rds girls, I couldn't get to the bottom of whether that is systemic of more female abandonment. The baby girls in the nursery were that much more inventive and less predictable, they played more interestingly. Whereas the boys young and old, much like myself, were very sport orientated and focused more on feats of physicality than imagination.
This was no contrived or all-smiling affair, older kids of 7-8 seemed vindictive or sometimes outright cruel to the younger ones. Removing their toys, slapping them on the head, or even locking them up collectively in a mini ger. More staff and more supervision would be needed to prevent the harsher behaviors, there is a lot of self policing, where the older most mature sisters over 15, protect the youngest from the 8-10 year old terrors.
I tend to split my time between the kindergarten which as Maha said straight away 'is the most rewarding age' with the sports court which is the other natural age and activity hat comes naturally.
The kids are incredibly self sufficient en masse. The cook has taken 5 days off after a non-sop fortnight with extra volunteer groups. So cooking and cleaning is done by house, split into age and sexes. So a house of 6 girls between from 9-13 will be fully and successfully responsible for cooking for 80 people... One of the dogs got in a fight, and a few of the older kids could quieten him down, remove dozens of maggots from inside the canine's head, and disinfect the wound. Some of the girls bake an industrial quantity of bread and bread rolls to feed the whole center for 3-4 days. Kids pitch in remarkably, we feel like real skivers despite our best efforts. The mass teamwork and collaboration is astounding be it in the kitchen, bakery, or mass choreographing birthday celebrations. These kids social and team-working abilities or EQ would be off the charts, and I suspect there is English is better than the average Mongolian child too because of the number and nature of volunteers they have through.
Scholarships for some to go to the posh English school, although there are concerns how this is affecting the attending kids. An upswell in arrogance and cheekiness is an alarming transformation, probably derived from their more privileged peers. Didi recognises this explicitly and is now looking away from such western-branded schooling, where the school itself can be conceited and western culture and ideas are pedestalled often without critique or circumspection. Why attempt to press these Mongolian kids into uniform Western moulds, at great financial expense and possible social division within the Centre. She is looking to start up again the school at Lotus, and balance the acquisition of modern skills with the absorption of Mongolian culture and the development of good character traits.
'Circle' is a twice daily ritual, the morning being basically a get-go zumba class, and the evening a hand-holding and communal singing circle, which ends in the glorious finale of everyone hugging goodnight to every other person. There are problems with discipline of course as with all kids, and adult. However this week the issues emanated from a volunteer group that was too young immature and lacking a strong central leader. These groups can set poor standards and act as poor role models for the kids, whether it's constant use of mobile phones or encouraging drinking alcohol. A volunteer group like this can be more hindrance than help, and just increases the number of dependents at the center.
The wholesome river valley setting, with all sorts of animals around, and constant outdoor play and pursuit, with screens noticeably absetnt would be a dream or even objective for many modern parents. The standard of life may seem lower to some of the kids, or their peers with parents, because of the lack of modern consumer goods. Yet to the parents of these peers there is so much to emulate of the Lotus lifestyle. The food is plain but healthy with more vegetables than the rest of our time in Mongolia combined. The tap water is drinkable and delicious spring water. The kids can learn in a professional kitchen, have a fully functioing wood and metal workshop, can make music or art and crafts most days, and most importantly they have constant access to anear infinite pool of playmates. Admittedly this is Summer and this is when almost all volunteers come to help and enrich the place.
There are possibly a lack of male role models at Lotus, especially Mongolian speaking ones. the Centre's location is around an hour outside the city centre, more in traffic, this is great for air and life quality for the kids, but doesn't help in staff retention. Didi admitted that for cost reasons there aren't quite enough of them, which can then lead to overwork and burnout. Donations are not always the most sensible objects, over-hoarding of impractical or divisive toys. The simple fact of the matter is more money is needed, this comes from increasing the flow of cash donations, or being able to cut the running costs of the orphanage elsewhere. With vegetable gardens and burgeoning beehives, they are working toward food independence, heating and energy is clearly the sphere that the Rising Sun Cycle is acting within. Money is not always the nicest gift to give for the donor, but it is often the most useful in theses cases. Sponsoring a staff member is an excellent way to contribute in kind, but exactly where the help is most needed.
Traditionally there is no culture of philanthropy in Mongolia, at the very start Didi found it difficult to explain to neighbours why she was helping the kids from the street. They could not easily comprehend why she would make her life more difficult or costly to help 'bad kids without parents', there just wasn't a category for her actions. Government authorities have regularly been a thorn in the side for Lotus. The average lifespan of a government in Mongolia is around 3 years, there is a mentality of 'get in, get rich, get out'. Every cycle entails the wholesale replacement of official posts with the new family, friends and 'favour creditors', as such regulation is in a constant state of irrational flux and working relationships can't be built up over time. government TV in every room, new school bus specific company and importer, housemothers hours in a row.
The staff being in short supply may help the kids accelerate to independence and self-reliance more quickly, but perhaps at the expense of encouraging self reflection or discussions with adults. The 'law of the jungle' operates relatively strongly in many interactions between the ids, where harsh behavior is maybe passed down when younger kids come of age. More staff would be able to balance and moderate this fairly natural tendency.
On the day of departure, we had breakfast in Didi's cabin up on the hill. After two decades of living in a Ger (yurt) onside and despite protestations, a donor built her a small house. Didi drew the line at running water, saying the piping was too expensive given the other needs of the Centre. The charming breakfast of muesli and smoothie sided with salted cucumber toast could have been served up in one of the trendiest vegan brunch spots in Amsterdam. The genuine manner and reasons for the food probably couldn't be recreated in De Pijp however.
I couldn't wait to push past the pleasantries and get into Didi's arc of experience, 'it started with lunch for one kid, then his friend, then a few more, and then before you know there are 120 of them.' Help and love isn't measured and metered out with Didi or Lotus, but flows in a torrent from a deep point of the heart.
Sameness, currently lack of opportunities off site. Afterwards can be very difficult - although far more support than other centers.
Trip down to the river with Ruby, unruly kids, leading Rob up he mountain they knew was wrong. They were by now used to hellos and goodbyes, more transitory than most other 'homes' by nature of numbers. Ruby as a model volunteer, her feeling even 3 months is too short to make a lasting impact or mentorship. The babies openeing up to her in Mongolian or wishing her as mother, ad her having no idea.