In 1993 Didi Ananda Kalika, a meditation teacher in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, was shocked by the plight of so many kids living on the streets. She started to help the kids by providing food and shelter and soon realized that there was a need for more.
In 1995, with the help of some friends, she started the Lotus Children’s Center to provide children who come from some of the most terrible backgrounds – abandonment, sexual abuse, malnutrition and domestic violence – a chance to change their lives for the better. Here is a recent report from the center:
Through quality education, meaningful activities and by creating small family groups (10 children to one housemother), the Lotus Children’s Centre tries to give children a chance to make a positive future. Today around 150 children call the Lotus Center their home.
The Center also helps many ultra-poor families with income projects and food assistance, so that poverty does not tear their family unit apart. The Lotus Center isn’t a large organization – we don’t have a marketing department or a fleet of 4-wheel drives – and the majority of our core staff are volunteers. We are a child-focused organization and are a collection of people who are 100 percent committed to the welfare of our kids.
At Lotus we have three simple goals:
1. To provide primary care to all of our children, which includes food, health care, clothing and accommodation
2. To provide the children with developmental care so that they can break free of the poverty cycle. For example, we aim to give each child a quality education, counseling, self esteem building exercises and the access to life skills.
3. To provide the children with support in their “post-Lotus” lives, so that they have a safety net and are able to find employment and tertiary education placements.
We provide basic Mongolian houses and gers for our family units to live in. This accommodation is situated in Yarmag – a ger suburb or shantytown, just out of the capital Ulaan Baatar. We provide this type of living environment for three reasons:
1. It is a very similar environment to where the children come from, so the children settle in more easily.
2. Most of our children will grow into adults who will be able to afford similar accommodation. We aim not to build up their expectations for the “material things in life”, but rather foster realistic attitudes in adulthood.
3. By living in the ger-town environment with a yard, a dog, a house and daily chores, there is less likelihood that the children will be institutionalized, a problem facing many orphans.
At Lotus we also develop family groups of 10 children per housemother. This gives the children a family environment, which is very healthy for developing close relationships, conflict resolution skills and ultimately it will give each child a better chance of being able to maintain a family of their own once they leave Lotus.
The Lotus Children’s Center views education as one of the most important tools in breaking the poverty cycle. Currently, the Mongolian education system covers some subjects very well, but we feel that there are some gaps in what is taught. We also feel that the education system does not effectively meet the needs of children who have learning difficulties or who require special considerations. This is why we have developed our own kindergarten and are in the process of developing our own school.
In the future we aim to use education as a key tool for the development of each of our children. This means classes for children with special needs, vocational training for the manually minded and access to a good quality academic education for all.
The Lotus Children’s Center has a small team of social workers who try to give the children the skills they need to be positive individuals. This means counseling, a summer adventure camp, a tutoring program, career advice and workshops on conflict resolution and problem-solving. Many of our children have had incredibily difficult life experiences. We feel that if our children are to develop away from their pasts, it is important that we give them the tools and support that they need.
Unfortunately 36 percent of Mongolians are classified as living below the poverty line. Many families and single mothers come to us, too poor to look after their children. Instead of taking the child, we have developed options to keep families together such as a sewing project that makes sample bags for mining companies. The family gets to gain an income by making the bags, while the profit from selling the bags goes to fund the Center’s running costs. And Food for Work, which gives families food packages in exchange for doing odd jobs around the Lotus Center. It provides short-term relief for families who are going through a rough patch.
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