The Gobi Gallop takes on ten riders every year and each of those riders is required to raise or pay a certain amount of money. Half of that fee goes towards the requirements for the ride while the full amount of the other half goes directly to the Children of the Peak. At the end of the 700 km ride, which is done in order to raise awareness for the foundation, there is a Gala to celebrate the rider's triumph and to raise more money through auctions and ticket sales. This year's Gobi Gallop Saddle, which each rider had to do their share of time in, sold for $4000 USD!
The school itself is a wonder. It's like a beautiful Iris blooming in the middle of a trash dump (almost literally). Set in the middle of the "ger district" which is like a giant shanty town on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, it's clean and feels homey, the children are happy, there is singing and dancing, loving and learning. Some of the kids when they first opened the school had a hard time interacting with others. Someone there said to me that they were like wild things, always fighting and arguing, not understanding the concept of sharing. In the garbage dump, scavenger's don't share. You TAKE what you can get. She said the transformation had been amazing. That the students were not only learning how to share and interact with one another properly but were thriving on it and taking those skills back home to brothers and sisters and other peers and even to their parents. The children were equally as eager to share with us what they had learned. One little girl counted wooden blocks to me as she placed them on the table. She was counting to me in English. We were offered a song and dance show. We saw some of the crafts they were working on. One little girl enjoyed looking at the pictures on my phone. After watching me swipe the screen and put my password in one time she had it figured out. The next photo I took she swiped and punched in my code before I knew what was happening. She was probably 5 or 6 years old. They are beautiful, bright little things that I'm happy to see have a chance in this world. An opportunity that they wouldn't have without Julie, the foundation, and the Gobi Gallop.
The emotions I felt visiting the school hit me out of no where. I knew I would feel compassion and sympathy for these children but what I felt went so far beyond that. It made me think beyond Ulaanbaatar, beyond Mongolia. Think about how many children there are in this world that don't have the smallest things that we take for granted for our children... proper hygiene, adult leadership and role models, appropriate health care, day to day safety, clean water, abundant food, a future that hasn't already been written for them, a pen with which to write that future and the paper to write it on....
Seeing the "ger district" was an eye opener as well. It's so easy for us as Americans, or Westerners in general, to remain ignorant to the state of other people's lives around the world. It's easy to imagine that everyone's lives are like ours, that everyone has the same opportunities and human rights. This is so far from the truth. We saw children and young pregnant mothers pushing carts filled with water from the place where they have to go to buy water for their homes. We saw young children, unattended, playing in muddy garbage filled puddles in the middle of the pot hole filled road. When I say pot hole I mean they were big enough to nearly swallow our cabs whole. It was a struggle just to drive up the road to the school. I looked at some of the houses and wondered to myself how a family could spend a minus 40 degree winter in there. I imagined what those thousands of pit toilets must smell like in the heart of the summer... or what it must be like to go out to those pit toilets in the dead of winter...
Recently the school has added a library and we were able to meet the librarian and hear her story. She was so devoted to making sure that her child got a chance at an education that she carried her youngest child from their home on her back while walking her oldest child to the school. It turned out she was doing this with a deteriorating hip. Basically her hip bone was falling apart inside of her and yet she still carried her toddler and walked her child to school every single day to ensure she received this education. The teachers at the school recently gathered together to donate money to help her receive a much needed surgery and the school gave her a job as the librarian to help her make a steady income.
The depth of the reach of this project is what really got my attention. They aren't just building a school and giving them a foundation and saying, well, good luck with that. They are delving deeper and deeper with every effort into the surrounding community. "Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm." (Coleridge) And never has this been more evident to me than when I visited this school and the Veloo Foundation is not stopping at half assed. They are truly following through and pushing initiatives like getting flushing toilets in the school and community showers, vocational programs for young adults and parents, summer camps in the countryside so that the children can learn about their heritage and history, and scholarship opportunities for students who wish to continue their education after the kindergarten.
The sad part of the story is that it costs over $15,000 dollars a month to keep the school up and running. They could take in many more children. They have the room. They just don't have the money.
I implore any of you who are able, any of you who have children that were given the opportunity to grow up and become anything they wanted to be, any of you who care about the people of this world, donate. Even if you don't donate to the Veloo Foundation or Mongolia, give in any little way you can to the children of this world, anywhere. Our world depends on the well-being and education of our children. Our world depends on us to give the children of the world a sense of values, the ability to learn, and the curiosity to continue to seek knowledge.
You may still contribute as my sponsor here: http://raiseathon.ca/gobigallop4/profile/0sjcqn2.
Every little bit helps.
"Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children."
- Walt Disney