Six years have passed since we opened our first learning center in Arvaikheer, Mongolia. Since then, a small library with donated children books developed to a nationally awarded institution providing eductional offerings to children and youth of all ages. These achievements are mainly due to the exceptional commitment of Uuganaa Gantumur, Community Hero in Arvaikheer and founder and manager of the learning center.
Uuganaa, what do you remember the most from the opening ceremony in September 2009?
It was one of the best days of my life! Although a few years have passed since the opening ceremony, I still remember everything about how our BOOKBRIDGE center was established with the help of the German and Mongolian scouts. On that day, I made a promise to myself and my community: I would carry-out the project and find meaningful ways to utilize this valuable English resource center. With all of the great books collected by the German scouts, we were ready to start our work!
My friends from Germany, many Peace Corps Volunteers and local government leaders helped to celebrate our opening ceremony! At the ceremony, many children were eagerly waiting for the doors to open so they could see the over one thousand books in our library. What once seemed like an overwhelming challenge has today become a very influential and effective learning center for Arvaikheer’s youth.
What was the biggest challenge in the first two years of operations?
Our biggest challenge was financial, namely finding ways to rent a physical location and to pay our staff. We had to rent a room at a very high cost, and this quickly became a big problem for us. At the same time, our membership increased unexpectedly. It was a pleasant surprise to have so many members; however we found it very difficult to maintain three staff members. At the time, our membership payments were only 500 tugrugs (about 0.25 USD). It just wasn’t enough to cover our rent and staff costs. Unfortunately, one of our staff members chose to leave due to the low salary we could offer. It took us two years before we found a workable solution. Our local Governor gave us a land grant where our BOOKBRIDGE center now stands. This experience taught us so much about running the center, and today we are a thriving organization with happy members and staff!
What makes you proud when you look at your learning center today?
I take a lot of pride in my center! First, I’m proud to support my community, especially the children and students. Any child can come to BOOKBRIDGE to read and learn, and this means there are a lot of kids in the center most of the time. My community helps and supports me too, which allows me to reach more and more children every year!
Second, I’m proud of the students who participate in BOOKBRIDGE’s programs! These talented students have become amazing role models for other kids, and they continuously impress me with their leadership skills. My students’ English skills have earned them recognition at the state and national levels through a variety of English competitions and scholarship programs.
Third, I’m proud of my full-time staff members and the sustainable programs and activities that they organize each day! They have made our center a truly child-friendly environment, and our organization has been recognized by our government with many awards, including “Woman of the Year” and “Outstanding Children’s Organization.” All of our activities can be led by the students themselves, which has made our programs very sustainable.
The children and students of Arvaikheer are very proud of their BOOKBRIDGE center! It’s a fantastic place, and I can’t thank the BOOKBRIDGE organization enough for helping us getting started. We often connect with other BOOKBRIDGE branches around the world and they inspire us to do our best. With the support of my community, the hard work of my staff and the motivated students of Arvaikheer, I know that our center will last a very long time. I love BOOKBRIDGE!