June 28, 2010

Secondhand Lions

I've been wanting to watch this film for a while and I'm glad I finally got around to it. I especially appreciated the speech that Uncle Hub gives during the movie - a small part of his speech on how to be a man...
Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
Now if I could just hear the rest of that speech...

June 24, 2010

Freedom to Choose

Freedom. That was the one word which described why Tunga's father thought democracy was a good thing for Mongolia, even though it required a very painful transition process including hundreds of thousands of people living in unemployment for decades. It's easy for me to forget that freedom is something that not everyone in the world enjoys, not something that every citizen is born having.

"A New Place" in Mongolian Script
Throughout the community fund experience, it has become apparent again and again that Mongolia's future is in the hands of its everyday citizens. As Americans, we are here as friends and advisors, but we are not the visionaries, the deciders or the ones who will choose what Mongolia will do with that future.

One of the best things I have done, as a friend and as a Volunteer in my community, is listen. I listen to my friends and colleagues about their past, their future, their hopes and their dreams. After hours and hours of listening, one of the questions I was recently asked and really took me off my feet was, "What do you think we should do?" They - their family, their community, their country. I told them I thought we should try our best, together, each of us, to make this country what they dream it can and should be. It starts today, goes until tomorrow and never ends. Every day we have a choice to live in the world we have and create the world that we want. The world as it is and the world as it should be. Together we can get there and we are getting closer every day.

June 21, 2010

Buddhism in Mongolia

This post was written by Travis for the Mongolia Travel Guide 
which is currently being written by Leslie, Nathan and friends

For many of us in the western world, we have watched our religious traditions grow unimpeded for the last few centuries. Especially in America, our history of freedom of religion goes back to our very founding documents and our first years as a new nation. Although Chinggis Khaan was one of the first world leaders to encourage religious tolerance, his homeland of Mongolia has seen many changes in its religious landscape over the last century.

June 16, 2010

Children's Camp

This week we head out to our first summer camp session in Dariganga Village for the year, and for some Volunteers this will be their last. Alex Yang and Elaine Law, my wonderful fellow Volunteers who I have lived with these past two years, are finishing up their Peace Corps service after camp and heading back to America in July. I will miss them like crazy, but it will be a lot of fun to spend the next ten fun days together at camp with over 100 crazy kids!

After months of planning, writing and organizing we will have almost four times as many children at camp this year as we did last year. In 2009 we had 60 kids in one 10-day session, this summer we have 110 kids in our first 10-day session and 120 kids in our second. We are expanding in every way, with counselors, PCVs, fun games and stuff for the kids, and much more. This has required a lot of hard work and included:
  • Receiving a $1000 grant to improve curriculum (including HIV/AIDS and life skills lessons), provide scholarships for disadvantaged children and expand helpful community programs
  • Receiving a $500 grant to improve water quality for the children at summer camp and
  • Developing a 37-page Summer Camp Toolkit to help PCVs and counselors improve summer camp programming all across Mongolia
The focus of everything is the children - what is best for them and what will help them enjoy an incredible camp experience. I'm very proud and excited to see so many more children able and ready to attend camp this year in Sukhbaatar. When I return in twenty days I will be sure to put up tons of pictures like last year, I know it will be an exhausting and amazing time for all of us!

June 14, 2010

Greatest Mongolia Travel Guide Ever!

This is a guest post by Nathan Chamberlain
Peace Corps Volunteer in Community Economic Development
Bayankhongor, Mongolia

Leslie and Nathan, a married Peace Corps Volunteer couple, are two of the most incredible people I have ever met. After years of discussion between all of us as friends, they decided to make a difference in the travel world by creating a guide to Mongolia written by Peace Corps Volunteers. It will be the first of its kind and I couldn't be more excited about it. I think it's unbelievably awesome and I am so proud of them. Nathan was kind enough to sit down with me and answer a few questions about the upcoming Mongolia Travel Guide which is scheduled to be released in early 2011.

June 10, 2010

Sophie's World

I just finished reading a great novel that I couldn't put down for several hours  yesterday, which is saying something coming from a guy who only reads fiction as often as he watches television. In fact, I walked around doing laundry and chores while reading it which surprised even me. Maybe it's because the novel mixed philosophy (which I love), the whole of human history and an ingenuous turn of events that made me speed through the book. It really is, as The Washington Post said, "a whimsical and ingenious mystery novel that also happens to be a history of philosophy." 

If you're even a little interested in philosophy or any of the big questions like, "Who am I?", "Where did we come from?", "Where are we going?", "Is there a God?" and "What's the point of life?" than you will probably love Sophie's World. It has renewed my interest in both fiction literature and philosophy as a whole. I must admit that I was one of the many people who Goethe warned about when he said, "He who cannot drawn on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth." Thanks Jostein and Todd, for helping me draw on quite a bit more than I did before.

June 7, 2010

Starting a Community Fund

A recent project that has been very exciting is the Sukhbaatar Social Business Community Fund, which is a cross-sector project spanning between Health and Community Economic Development.

June 3, 2010

The Two Year Mark

Our Close of Service Photo by Richard Sitler (also tagged on Facebook)

Passing the two year mark often inspires a tremendous amount of reflection on the part of us the Volunteers, as well as our staff and friends who watched us get off the plane what seems like yesterday. We have all changed so much, grown in ways we could have never imagined, met people we would later marry, followed interests that would turn into passions, and taken steps that would lead us down a path we could have never mapped out. Not just a few of us, but dozens of us. Maybe all of us.

I love what this experience has helped me learn, who it has helped me become, and how it has helped me grow. I have found in Peace Corps that people will want to love you, to bring you into their world and make you a part of it. Instead of retreating from that and holding onto old views of right and wrong, good and bad, success and happiness, I appreciate what has happened as I've let go. As I've let loose of my grip and fallen from where I was, I feel like where I stand now is maybe somewhere a little more down to earth. 

Peace Corps, for me, represents as much a way of life as it does an experience in my life. To ask what Peace Corps has meant to me is to ask who I am and who I have become. I feel like my world has expanded, I can see further and wider than I ever have before and somehow that makes me feel lost and found at the same time. Maybe I lost who I was and found who I am.