By Jinhoon Lee
With its unending steppes and rolling hills, Mongolia’s natives have established a nomadic lifestyle where they move from one land to another. This unique lifestyle is centered around herding animals and establishing ger – a large, round, and portable tent – to protect themselves from their harsh environment and cold temperatures. Recent modernization has motivated a major shift for many to assume an urban and city life. However, 25 to 40 percent of Mongolian families still lead a nomadic lifestyle and its tradition remains as a central Mongolian identity.
The last few decades have presented a challenge to many nomads with ongoing desertification of the Mongolian pastureland. According to Damdin Dagvadorj, managing director of the Climate Change and Development Academy, roughly 75% of Mongolia’s land is under the effect of desertification. Hundreds of lakes, rivers, and other water sources are drying up, making it difficult for many nomadic families to maintain their lifestyle.
This is why, starting five years ago, Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Mongolia initiated a project to help communities thrive amidst the desertification of Mongolian lands. Among the different measures taken by numerous organizations and initiatives to deal with the issue, GPF and its volunteers have been focusing on planting trees at different towns at risk to impede further desertification and to revive pastures. However, years of experience from past projects have made it clear that simply planting trees would not be enough to bring back the grasslands. For one thing, locals have voiced that the strong sandstorms in the area have offset past efforts. In addition, planted trees were often poorly maintained shortly after the initial enthusiasm for the project wore off.
Therefore, in a recent project held in April 2019, volunteers with the All-lights Project visited a town in Darkhan, Mongolia with a fresh approach. Along with planting the trees, volunteers and locals have worked together to built fences to protect the trees from the animals and sand storms. There was also a big push to encourage local villagers to take further responsibilities toward the project by designating their specific area, maintained by their own financial contribution. With the completion of the project, locals were grateful to the volunteers and spoke out saying that they will take ownership and properly maintain the trees at their designated fences.
With the authentic efforts of the volunteers and locals, the seven-day project to fight the desertification of Mongolia has made visible results. The project not only raised awareness and ownership of the desertification issue but also established personal relationships between the volunteers and locals who shared that the project brought feelings of connection and understanding that we are to support each other as one global family.