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Mongolia

Mongolia

General Background

Mongolia, often known as the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky,” is a country of adventure and ancient history. It exults in cobalt blue skies, wide-open spaces, and crystal clear rivers and lakes. This is the land of steppe nomads known for traditional hospitality, eagle hunting on horseback and an unparalleled sense of freedom and connectedness with the land. Peaceful Mongol nation tribes have existed here in harmony with their surroundings for thousands of of years. In a country of vast distances, communication can be difficult but it is important to maintain a sense of community. People living in the Mongolian countryside will always have a bowl of warm, salty milk tea ready for visitors.

Mongolia boasts a unique history dating back to the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan. Modern humans reached Mongolia approximately 40,000 years ago. In 1206 Khan founded the Mongol Empire which became the largest land empire in world history. Mongolia later came under Chinese rule and won its independence from China in 1921. The Mongolian People's Republic was then established with Soviet influence. Mongolia became a UN member state in 1961. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mongolia saw its own relatively peaceful democratic revolution in the early 1990’s which led to a multi-party system, a new constitution of 1992, and a transition to a market economy.

 

For most of its history, Mongolia was closed off to the world and little was known about the country or its people. For 3,000 years, the people of the steppes have adopted a pastoral way of life moving in the search of best pastures and campsites. They live by and for their livestock, in the forefront of which the horse undoubtedly was the first animal domesticated in these infinite meadows. Nomadic life thrives in summer and survives in winter. Considering climatic conditions, especially during winter, such lifestyle may seem to the outside world to be a very hard way of living. However, Mongolians have developed for centuries such qualities as strength and resilience that are essential for survival in this harsh nature, which is their cherished homeland.

Mongolia today remains relatively untouched with rural families not just surviving but thriving in one of the world’s most barren landscapes. Urbanization and modernization inevitably have had a heavy impact on nomadic traditions in Mongolia, but many of the distinctive old conventions have continued. Approximately 30% of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic and horse culture is still integral. In typical rural Mongolian villages, people make a living herding cows, sheep, goat, horses or camels far out in the countryside. Many Mongolians continue to live in yurts, or gers, which are dome-shaped, tent-like structures. They can be furnished with all the comforts of home, including a stove for heat and cooking meals, rugs to cover the wooden floors, beds, and storage. Today gers often have electricity, satellite dishes, and solar panels. Locals closely follow the traditions of Mongolian nomads, depending mostly on the meat and dairy products provided by their cattle. Since the trek between ger and school is often too intensive to do daily, there is a large school dorm in the village center where 60-70 children stay during the week. Some non-herding people live in apartments, but most live in ger or wooden house neighborhoods without running water. Over half of the population identifies as Buddhist while more than a third do not identify with a particular religion.

When the weather is warmer than freezing, children and adults alike are often outside, playing games and enjoying nature. In recent years, public infrastructure, compulsory education, and quality of life has improved in Mongolia, but there is still a need for greater and more equitable investment in these projects, especially in rural areas.

The official language of Mongolia, spoken by 95% of the population, is Mongolian. A variety of dialects of Oirat and Buryat are spoken across the country, and there are also some speakers of Mongolic Khamnigan. In the west of the country, Kazakh and Tuvan, both Turkic languages, are also spoken. Mongolian Sign Language is the principal language of the deaf community.

Today, Mongolian is written using the Cyrillic alphabet in Mongolia, although in the past it was written using the Mongolian script. An official reintroduction of the old script was planned for 1994, but has not taken place as older generations encountered practical difficulties. The traditional alphabet is being slowly reintroduced through schools.

Russian is the most frequently spoken foreign language in Mongolia, followed by English, although English has been gradually replacing Russian as the second language. Korean has gained popularity as tens of thousands of Mongolians work in South Korea.

Mongolia is known for many things, but not for its cuisine. The seriously extreme weather here means that Mongolians have historically followed a diet consisting of meat, dairy and animal fats, critical sustenance for brutal conditions. Mongolian cuisine is rooted in their nomadic history, and thus includes much dairy content and meat, but few vegetables. Two of the most popular dishes are Buuz (a meat-filled steamed dumpling) and Khuushuur (a sort of deep-fried meat pie.) Ice cream is a favored winter treat. In winter you’ll find street vendors selling ice-cream on the street from paper boxes. There’s no need for a freezer at -22 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mongolia boasts a wide variety of wildlife: with 139 species of mammals; 450 species of birds (331 migratory and 119 resident within Mongolia year round); 22 species of reptiles; 6 species of amphibians; and 76 fish species.

  • Endangered Bactrian camels are native to Mongolia. They have two humps and are smaller than the Arabian camel. The Mongolian horse is small but tough and can withstand the harsh temperatures of the Mongolian climate.
  • Saiga antelope are are unique indigenous species and one of the most ancient mammals, having shared the Earth with saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths.The remarkable proboscis-like saiga nose drapes over its mouth and points downward. The bones on the inside of the nose are complex and convoluted, and the nasal openings are lined with hairs, glands, and mucous tracts. Each nostril is a sac lined with mucous membranes.This mysterious muzzle may help the saiga warm up inhaled frigid winter air and filter out dust during the arid summer months.

Wildlife is threatened in Mongolia. As less land is available for wild animals, species such as the musk deer have nowhere to hide from illegal hunters who are killing off most of the remaining population. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the highest priority species that require conservation are the Snow Leopard, Altai Argali Sheep, Mongolian saiga and Mongolian gazelle.

  • The Gobi is expanding. Every year, about 1,400 square miles of new desert are added because of changes in land use, including farming, grazing animals, and destruction of the forests. Global climate change may also be a factor.
  • The first dinosaur egg ever discovered was found in the Gobi. Many dinosaur remains and fossils from 100 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous period, have been found there.

Our Projects

Establish Cultural Exchange

We are partnering with the Zuunbayan-Ulaan General Education School in Mongolia and Peace Corps volunteer Jessica Mendez to provide you with a first person look into daily life in Mongolia. Through our virtual cultural exchange program, you will have the opportunity to learn about Mongolian culture directly from these students while teaching them about your own. You will be able to complete shared activities and share photos and videos of your respective lives. Through this program you will have the opportunity to help fulfill this small Mongolian school’s need of school uniforms, supplies and classroom materials.

Get the WorldChanger Experience™ with us!

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