Uuganaa Gantumur is one of the outstanding persons at BOOKBRIDGE. Born to a rural community in Mongolia, she decided to leave her comfortable life as a teacher and found her own social business. Uuganaa is running the first BOOKBRIDGE learning center and has received several awards for her work. In this interview with volunteer Roberta Blaho, she reveals what is motivating her and why she will never stop to engage with young people.
Uuganaa, you run BOOKBRIDGE Learning Center. What is the purpose of the learning center? What kinds of activities do you do with the students?
I was encouraged a lot when I started working with Peace Corps Volunteers. By this time, I was a public school English teacher. I learned some ways from PCVs how to support young people, how to motivate them through different activities. Then I met German scouts. They were so kind people to support countryside kids through sustainable projects. It was 2005. Now my Arvaikheer learning center is the first one in Mongolia; there are 10 besides mine in Mongolia, 3 in Sri Lanka, and 7 in Cambodia. All BookBridge learning centers are supported initially by the BookBridge Headquarters in Switzerland. The reason is I started BookBridge is I need more time with kids out of school. If I am a school teacher, I need a lot of time at public school, so that’s why I established it. The most important thing is like I need a lot of time working with kids out of school. That’s why I quit working at public school. However, it was very difficult decision for me to be self-reliance by this time. The past 10 years, now I can develop my own center and my dream; found my passion. The parents wanted their kids to only learn English, but that is not only what I wanted. I wanted them to be an organizer, leader, high confidence, and rebel girls.
The purpose of my decision is to support young people in my community through scouting, life skills in order to improve their self-confidence and to be a good person in society. I run so many activities: scouting, life skills, it should include problem-solving, thinking, supporting students’ participation. Such as field trips, English festival, camping, TedX.
What is your role in the community?
I think my role is very important for young people in my community. I’m not a public school teacher, and so I need to work equally with all kids from different schools and prepare them to have a good attitude and understanding when they come into UB. I’m the person who prepares the young people to move to the next stage through English. That’s why I never think about changing my position, like moving to a different organization or to a different city.
I give good discipline to them through my class, how to behave, how to be on time, how to treat foreigners, how to show their best in a university. I’ve seen my students come back and lecture on young kids. I have seen how it is a very important role.
Of which of your accomplishments are you most proud? What about your students’ accomplishments?
My accomplishment now is BOOKBRIDGE in Arvaikheer, even in Mongolia, even internationally, and having a sustainable service for ten years. About my students, of course, a lot of them have a really good English skills, got scholarships abroad, and work in different organizations successfully. The most successful one is they all came back to BOOKBRIDGE, helped to train young people, influence them in different ways, to share their experience, and to be a good role model in society. Not medals and competitions at Olympics, I can’t count those. This is just short-term outcome. My students have a really good attitude, they can volunteer for organizations, and organize BOOKBRIDGE festivals. I tell them ”don’t set up short term goals only. Your goals should be long term. Then you will find yourself and work hard”.
What are your goals and dreams for the future?
In the future, I keep working with youth and still at BOOKBRIDGE. I don’t want to establish a big company or big things. I just wanted to still fill this space, how it is important in my community, to help young people reach their future goals. Of course, I will prepare someone at BOOKBRIDGE as a trainer. I want to keep my service in my community for a long time and help the community to grow up good person in society.
I really want to share with other people always have a positive attitude. Even if you are in despair, just see broadly, smile sweetly, and engage others. Just be a very close friend who are around you. That helps me to survive a really difficult time of my life and opened another door for my work and my family life.
The interview was conducted by Roberta Blaho, Peace Corps Volunteer at Arvaikheer Learning Center in 2018. You can read the whole interview here