Orkhon (far left), 9, and Dulguun, 14, give their mom, Enkhchimeg, 32, a hand with some cinderblocks at the family’s new home in the Khan-Uul community in Mongolia.
A single mother and business owner in Mongolia works hard for a chance to build a dream home for her children
The sound of the horse-string fiddle
makes me wish I had had the music on a mix-tape a week earlier. Then, I was travelling across the khaki-coloured Mongolian countryside. Now, I’m thousands of kilometres away from those peaks and valleys inside a home in the Khan-Uul community
in central Mongolia
. Fourteen-year-old Dulguun confidently plays the two-stringed instrument, which is known as a morin khuur
, even though she admits later that the fiddle was in need of tuning.
I think different. Her peaceful music would have counteracted the carsickness brought on by the bumpy, galloping ride through that rough countryside. This belief comes from something other than medical advice or even a cursory Google search. Call it a hunch, seeing how Dulguun has calmed the room.
Dulguun with her horse-string fiddle.
Speaking of room, there’s not much where Dulguun lives. Dulguun, her 32-year-old mother, Enkhchimeg, and her sisters, Orkhon, 9, and Amirlan, 3, share the home with Dulguun’s grandmother, Enkhbat, 56, and five other relatives. The concrete-and-wood home is actually Enkhbat’s, but soon Dulguun, her sisters and her mother will have a home to call their own.
Enkhchimeg prepares dinner as her daughter Amirlan, 3, looks on.
Amirlan outside of the family's home.
Dulguun outside of the family's home.
Finding that house has been difficult, as Dulguun’s family has struggled. In 2006, when Enkhchimeg had just two daughters, she lost her job at a clothing factory after it went bankrupt. Her first thought then was about her children: “How was I going to feed them?” she remembers asking herself. “It was a terrible experience.” Making it harder, the girls’ father was jobless and Enkhchimeg was also supporting her own seven younger siblings.
Though she worried, Enkhchimeg wasn’t helpless; she was hopeful. A versatile tailor, able to sew anything from dresses to car seat covers, Enkhchimeg would use her talent to help her family. The new child sponsorship program in her community added to her confidence. Having her daughters sponsored through World Vision helped the family and gave Enkhchimeg opportunities to resolve other problems. One item in particular that helped her was the sewing machine she received from World Vision, which enabled her to begin her own tailoring business. Later that year, Enkhchimeg began sewing and selling clothing, keeping her family afloat.
Enkhchimeg sews a pillowcase.
During my visit, Enkhchimeg shows me the sewing machine, one made for a professional, which she proves to be. If sewing a pillowcase could be a performance, then Enkhchimeg puts on a good show. She wipes down her worktable and spreads out some fabric. Snip, snip, snip, she trims the fabric to the right size. Next, she turns on the machine. It makes a low hum. Her eyes stay fixed on the fabric as she runs it under the needle. My eyes watch mesmerized as she makes a pillowcase in less than 30 minutes. Enkhchimeg makes it look so easy that I half-seriously ask her for tips if I were to take up sewing. She grins and offers encouraging advice, telling me to treat the machine well and to take it slow.
Let’s move fast and go from 2006, when Enkhchimeg started her business, to 2013, when she’s a successful business owner. Her relationship with her daughters’ father had ended and she is now a single mother. She desires a new home for her daughters. With her enviable work ethic, she joins a World Vision project that could help her family. Enkhchimeg leads a group of community members through different training workshops about health, economics and children’s rightsas part of the project. If her group successfully completes the training, some of them would receive building materials for new homes.
When Enkhchimeg recounts this, I already know what happens. I’m visiting her in October 2014 and her family’s new home, built with materials from World Vision, is near completion. Orkhon says she hopes the home is ready soon. Her mom expects they’ll move in in a couple of months. Praising her mother, Dulguun says, “I’m very proud of her. She’s acting as both my mom and my dad, and raising us well.”
Sisters Dulguun and Orkhon walk to school.
Later, we go outside where Dulguun and Orkhon kick around a soccer ball. Both sisters are sponsored and both are into sports. Orkhon, who’s in Grade 6, is on her school’s basketball team; she made a vow to win gold in an upcoming tournament.
Her older sister is in Grade 9 and enjoys playing volleyball and basketball. Dulguun mentions that when she was in Grade 4, she “accidentally” placed third in a Mongolian wrestling
competition at her school. This was a big deal—Mongolian wrestling is what hockey is to Canada. But despite Dulguun’s effortless success, she’s retired from her country’s most popular sport. She’d rather play the traditional horse-string fiddle, which she took up after taking World Vision-supported lessons.
Before we go back inside their home where their cabbage, carrot, potato and beef soup is stewing, the sisters give me a tour of their brick home under construction. The interior has some work left before it’s done, but when it is, Enkhchimeg’s daughters will have rooms of their own.
Dulguun, Orkhon and their aunt, Otgontsetseg, 13, jump outside their home, taking a break from a game of soccer.
“We’re pretty excited,” Dulguun says. “It’s difficult to live with so many people.” She explains that she doesn’t get much time to herself. “It’s noisy,” she says. “It’s hard to do homework.”
Ah yes, homework. Dulguun and Orkhon still have to work on theirs tonight. The girls head toward the place they call home for now, knowing they’ll soon be moving into what’s almost ready—their mother’s dream.