Since I have only spent a grand total of 4 days in the capital this past year, the chance to do some meaningful work and do some learning is a welcome change. Peace Corps flew me, my counterpart and the other volunteers from my sector in to UB to participate in the International School Social Workers Conference, which takes place every three years in a different city. This year the conference was held in Ulaan Baatar.
The Peace Corps Community and Youth Development sector in Mongolia is unique from other similar PC programs because volunteers are placed with school social work counterparts. This is with the focus on specific goals including promoting positive youth development, and experiential learning practices. Over the course of my service though, I found that I did better serving those goals working with other counterparts, in particular outside of my school, but PC was able to find the funding to bring in CYD volunteers and social work counterparts into Ulaan Baatar to attend this conference. I was not going to say no.
Several other countries were represented at this conference , including Sweden, Japan, Korea and Singapore, amongst others, and presentations seemed to be about every topic on the planet . Topics ranged from “Discussion of ways to create positive relationships with Native American students and parent s in School Social work Setting” to ” Social Work in Tajikistan”. There were even those in my cohort that presented at the conference, presenting on topics such as ” Creating and Implementing Individualized Education Plans” and “Disabilities and Socialization” . One volunteer presented on his mentoring project that he implemented called the “Agaa, Egee Project, [or the Big Brother, Big Sister] Project: A Cross Age Mentoring Program in a Mongolian Secondary School ” , which he presented his results after two years of work. Even the country director of PC Mongolia presented a keynote about “The US Peace Corps in Mongolia You Development Project: Empowering and Preparing the Next Generation of Change Makers in Mongolia”. Yeah, we thought that was a mouth full too.
Though I’m not planning on making school social work my career, the topics were interesting and a great capacity building opportunity for our counterparts and all the other social workers at the conference. While some presentations were rough ( some presenters were not prepared for translators , which meant that their prepared 30 min speeches turned into hour plus presentation) Also Ulaan Baatar is in the process of repairing their water pipes, which means that most of the sidewalks and roads have been turned into pits, making my morning walks to get coffee especially precarious. Which by the way, has been costing me an arm and a leg. Its around 6,000 tugs for a decent sized double latte, which twice a day adds up to quite a bit of my city stipend. But when you’re in the city, and there are working espresso machines, its all worth it.
On top of the conference its been nice to hang out with my CYD cohort, perhaps for the last time. Starting from the end of July we all will start leaving in small groups to close our service. I have been preparing to go back by sending my large winter bag back to the states, which required an adventure to the train station to load my bag to get shipped to beijing to get shipped to the states. This adventure was further complicated by the UB marathon, which closed down most of the main roads and streets in the town center, so most taxis would not take us there. But it was worth it … now my stuff is on its way stateside. Of course the time spent hanging out in the hostel in our off hours has been great as we catch up and talk about our future plans or lack there of. Though we did joke that we should do a reunion at the location of the next conference, wherever that may be.
Though of course the end has already happened for some. I shared a taxi with a volunteer in my cohort to airport to catch her flight back stateside while I was going to be heading back to site. It was tough to see someone that you have known for two years leave for the unforeseeable future. I’m not the best with goodbyes so I was surprisingly emotional… just the beginning of the end I suppose. Though I know I will see most of these people again. They can count on it.
Till next time, V.