In 2016, locals predicted that Mongolia would be plunged into the coldest winter in 100 years.
Unfortunately, this prediction came true in 2016-2017, with temperatures reaching 50 degrees below zero in the worst cases. This is almost unbearable in ordinary circumstances, but fatal for those living in vulnerable conditions.
Imagine having to endure this weather in inadequate shelter. For To Ganshimeg, a single mother of four children in Mandal district, in northern Mongolia, she doesn’t have to – she’s lived it.
To used to live in a basement with her three sons and one daughter, without enough space for the children to play or do their homework.
As the harsh Mongolian weather begin to turn, To had to move to a borrowed ger, a traditional Mongolian hut.
But while the typical ger is sturdy and well insulated, hers was run down and bare, offering little protection from the extreme cold.
A few days before a snowstorm was forecast to hit northern Mongolia, the ger’s owner wanted it back.
A new home through the Red Cross
Desperate, To wrote to various organisations asking for help. “Only the Mongolian Red Cross responded,” she said.
To knew she could rely on our partners the Mongolian Red Cross – she has already been receiving support through their social care programme.
Operating in eight districts around the country, the programme provides assistance to vulnerable families, particularly the elderly, people with disabilities, the poor, and single-parent households like To’s.
Through the programme, a volunteer visits To at least once a week to help with babysitting and other household chores, especially when To is out at work.
“I already consider her a good friend,” To said.
The programme also offers livelihoods training, where To learned how to make preserved foods and even got to sell her products in a farmers’ market. This was a welcome addition to her precarious job doing construction work and seasonal planting.
To also looks forward to her regular visits to the local social care centre, where she receives psychological and emotional support, and meets and socialises with others.
“I get to make new friends,” she said.
Two days before the snowstorm struck Mandal, To received a new ger as well as fuel from the Mongolian Red Cross. The ger was set up within hours, ready for her family to move in.
Things are looking up
When the Red Cross team visited their new home, To and her four children were cosy by the fireplace, safe from the -30 degrees Celsius temperature outside.
To’s 12-year-old son found a unique way to say thank you to a visiting Red Cross team – he performed a traditional Mongolian dance. His mum, brothers and sisters cheered and clapped as he moved energetically in their new living room.
“I feel I’m being taken care of and I look forward to my family’s new life,” To said.
For the future, To hopes to use her new skills to find a better, more permanent source of income. And, as ever, the Mongolian Red Cross is ready to provide the support she needs in looking for a job.
The Red Cross’ social care programme helped families through the coldest winter of the century. It will continue to keep families like To’s warm, safe and secure – not just for today, but for tomorrow and the months to come.