With just a few hours sleep, we were up and back on the road at 5am this morning to make up for time lost breaking down before Dundgobi. Jean, Amy and Yasmin were off in the Land Cruiser with Tom, Kim and I following in the Russian jeep. Zaya said it the best, “Russian jeep is built well, but not designed for anybody to ride inside”. The thing is a tank, with its awesome Russian nuclear submarine gauges, and the brutal road can do no harm to it. But the same can not be said for its inhabitants. As much as the road was shaking us and the Fiat to bits, the jeep took its blows and just passed them along to us. For several hours the seat was punching me in the back until I got sick. We rotated for a while, I took the front seat until somebody, I think Kim & Zaya, wisely put me into the Land Cruiser. I was finally able to sleep until the 5 hour drive to Dalanzadgad was complete.
The Mercy Corps office in Dalanzadgad treated us to breakfast before we set out to see the project sites around the city, and we all recovered from the drive with a well needed energy boost.
The first site we went to was a community wood working group that custom makes parts for Gers. With a grant of several hundred thousand Tugrik (a few hundred dollars) which came from Mongol Rally fund raising, they bought a table saw and some of the raw materials they needed to kick start the group. They are already building a reputation for the quality of their work and it was awesome to see that they are creating a sustainable business to benefit themselves and their community.
The next site was a similar set up, but this time making bricks out of recycled ash, to be used as construction material. Mercy Corps had helped them with a loan guarantee for some equipment and was providing business oversight & advice. They are already looking to expand production due to their success.
A few blocks away, we visited a building where women were making the canvass Ger covers and growing their business with grants from Mercy Corps.
We continued to a few more sites, one which made handicrafts for sale in UB, and another which made felt and clothing for school uniforms. These uniforms are a little funny to us… today was the first day of school and we could see the kids strutting all over town in their new duds. The girls uniforms look like French maid outfits, and the boys wear these suits that are straight out of a 1920’s gangster film… all shiny with pin stripes. It was a total crack up for us. At many of these project sites we would see the Mercy Corps contracts proudly displayed on the wall with Mongol Rally logos stamped right above them. The fourth site we visited was operated by a group of women who were all struggling to pay to care for their children with cerebral palsy. With the grants from Mercy Corps they were able to start a business that now affords them the ability to better care for the special needs of their children, creating a steady and recurring income that far exceeds the minimal amount the government was providing for assistance previously. It was awesome to see that for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, the fund raised from the Mongol Rally could set these groups up in the community to start sustainable businesses. Just the fund raising from Baatar Hero could create several of these grants next year, and we only saw 5 projects in one town. I can only imagine what the impact is in aimags across the country from the funds of the entire rally.
After yesterday’s horrible day of driving and final break down, it felt completely worth it today seeing how the rally positively impacts these projects. It was incredibly touching when these women told us how much the rally funds help them and thanked us personally… their parting words, “Tell people at home about our work here”. So, while you may not all be able to do something like the Mongol Rally, you now know the impact that Mercy Corps is making in these people’s lives.
While it seemed our day couldn’t get much better, it was only just beginning. Zaya took us to a great restaurant for lunch, and after a few hours drive one some really nice dirt roads for a change, we found ourselves at the Flaming Cliffs just in time for sunset. The view was stunning… words can’t do it justice and I’m not sure photos can either. Tomorrow morning we’ll wake up early from our nearby Ger camp and look for dinosaur fossils at the foot of the cliffs before heading West to sand dunes and then North to visit some more Mercy Corps projects. If their is time, we may even be able to drive through Karakorum and visit the Erden Zuu monastery on our way back to UB on Friday.