Iwam meetings are always interesting and fun, and are often very moving, due to the nature of the organization, the kinds of activities we participate in and, of course, the kinds of guest speakers we have. The meeting yesterday was no exception. In fact, due to a number of almost coincidental factors, it turned out to be one of the most moving meetings yet.
We usually have our meetings at the community centre that services a number of embassies here in UB. They have been having some work done so the venue was not available for our meeting, so we moved it to a local art gallery (hence the gorgeous pictures in the back ground of the photos) which is in the basement of a small shopping centre. They do have an elevator down, but apparently they don't use it as they had blocked and sealed the downstairs elevator door with a large painting. Therein lies the beginning of some of the drama!
I'll get to that in a moment. First, here are some scenes from the pre-meeting mingling where we have a chance to support some local vendors who bring their products for sale. They all represent organizations who are working to help vulnerable women and children in our community - usually by providing training and jobs to these women so they can support their families. Almost all of the products available for sale are hand made by women whose lives have been profoundly improved by having learned a marketable skill.
|Made in Mongolia. - a co operative that represents disadvantaged people from throughout the country|
|The Quilting Centre - Selenge (on the right) does a wonderful job training primarily single mothers in the beautiful art of quilting. She has won the much coveted Fashion Design Prize for Mongolia Traditional Costume design and was one of those who receive some clothing from the charity shipment. She sent those clothes to an orphanage some 1200 kilometers away.|
|Plants to fund orphan's dental work and cards and cups to help out at the Women's Prison|
|Robin with the lady from the Herder's Felting Association ... and the meeting mascot - a gorgeous little Australian girl in town for a visit with her Grandma!|
And then on to the meeting's first speaker - Chuck Howell from US AID telling us about the history and current projects the US government is helping out with here in Mongolia.
Even the youngest IWAM-ers were interested!
Fiona Addleton, whose husband happens to be the American Ambassador, has been working feverishly recently to help a small group of disabled Mongolians who are trying to set up and run the first ever international meeting of disabled persons to be held in Mongolia. This international meeting takes place somewhere in Asia every two years. It was scheduled to be held in Cambodia this year, but because Mongolia has such a tremendous lack of awareness of the problems of the disabled, the meeting was moved to Mongolia. The thought was that, of all the countries in Asia, Mongolia most urgently needs community awareness of and assistance for the plight of the country's disabled members.
Here is where the Tsunami's effect comes in. Even this far away, the impact of that terrible day is being felt. The funding for the major portion of this conference and educational program was to be covered by the Japanese Government. As a result of the tsunami however, the Japanese Government is only able to cover a small portion of it and so, these hardworking Mongolians, facing the likely cancellation of their conference, have taken up the challenge of raising 20,000,000 Tugriks ( approx 18,000 dollars) ... in TWO months!!
The lack of appreciation for, or accommodation of, people with disabilities was perfectly illustrated by the fact that, the building's elevator door had been covered ( and sealed) with a large painting. The art gallery staff did remove the painting -which made quite a mess by the way- but to no avail...the elevator, for some reason, wasn't working. The only solution...someone had to carry these wheelchair bound men down the staircase. From the look of it, these men are used to doing whatever is necessary to get around but imagine, a public building where there is simply no access unless you find someone to carry you! I didn't get any pics as they came down..but here's what it looked like as they were leaving....
This young man has recently graduated from university in Japan with a major in Japanese. He and his colleagues are determined to effectuate a change in both the services available to and the attitude toward handicapped people here. They are lobbying for legislative change as well as trying desperately to save their conference to increase public awareness of people with disabilities.
These men are determined and have worked out what I think looks like a good strategy to try and raise some funds. If any of you out there would like to contribute - let me know and I will make sure your donations get to this wonderful cause! I know I will be buying some of their art work and tshirts at their auction.....some of you may see one under the Christmas Tree this year!! It is really inspiring to see these people working so hard against such great odds. If you read my blog from a few days ago, you know how difficult even the day to day life for handicapped people here is. I really am hoping that they are able to come up with the funding to keep their conference moving forward. Just the outreach alone to the disabled people in the remote areas of the country will have a profound impact I'm sure!
Robyn says it best..... Any questions??