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Learning English and Buddhism in Mongolia

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let's Run: A documentary


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LET'S RUN!!! Documentary film

My name is Suranchuluun. I was born in Ulaanbaatar, 1981. We used to live in Ger district which was at the edge of the city, with my grandmother. I used to love writing poems and was fond of reading books. Now that I think of it I was quite a straight "A" student back then.

In the 1st and 2nd grade, I used to dance as a "snow girl" and dreamed of becoming a dancer. I grew up with big dreams...

In 1994, I visited my distant cousin in the countryside, in Dundgovi province, to spend my summer holiday. The children there were very naughty, and they used to whip the horses, and the horse that I was riding was very fast. I fell and I got hurt. I landed pretty hard on my leg.

At the time, they told me that I hurt my leg pretty badly, so the elders of the area tried to treat my injury with various traditional methods using black tea with salt. However my leg didn't get any better and I stayed there for about a month.

In late August, I came into the city and checked into the hospital. They couldn't medically determine or classify what exactly my injury was. And I remember well that I went around many local hospitals. I was advised to get checked at the cancer institution and so I did.

They told me that I had bone cancer.

They said that my injury was untreated so long that it formed cancer. Because I checked in late I had to do chemotherapy and radiation therapy immediately. I had gone around to many hospitals in 1994, but wasn't diagnosed until 1995.

In May of 1995, I went under surgery to amputate my leg.

After amputating my leg, for a teenage 13-14 year old girl, it was of course very hard. I felt lonely. There were many times when I cried at the hospital. It was painful, and going through constant treatment was tiring and during those hard times, to see my mother and grandmother go around to get me food everyday was very heart aching. I think my grandma did many things to ensure I wouldn't feel lonely. She constantly said things like "You're pretty", "You're a good student", "Amazing", "You can do it." She made me feel strong and brave.

You'll never hear the end of saying how difficult it was.

My grandma used to say, "You don't advance in live using your legs, you advance using your head." And at that time, I couldn't grasp the concept. "So you're not advancing with your legs, then how can you do it using your head?" Now that I think back on it, this was a very true concept.

If someone saw another in pain and suffering and thought to themselves "what would I do if I was in their place" is the mindset my mother taught me to have. To the teenage girl who had lost her leg, her friends were very important.

After the amputation surgery, I transferred to school #81 in the district #1 as a 7th grader. My teachers name was Tsendmaa but I couldn't go due to health reasons so I decided to write my teacher a letter. But then most interestingly, you know when in September "Spartikad" happens around on Saturday where children have competitions right? Well, I had writtent he letter a week prior to that. And my teacher had read my letter in front of the whole class who I didn't know at the time. She told my sister to bring me to class and my classmates welcomed me joyfully saying stuff like "Oh come here, you're one of us now".

I didn't know that she had read the letter to the class so I casually introduced myself and some held my bags for me. They truly welcomed me beautifully. Its like the saying when a black mark is on a person, you can't wipe it off. Well, my classmates left a white mark in my heart.

Even though I went under amputation surgery in 1995, I went through various treatments until 1998-99, such as chemotherapy and radiation. While I was going through the therapies, my classmates would occasionally stop by as if they had to. They would come around two hours after class so I would wait by the window waiting to see them.

After my amputation, my classmates opened the first beautiful doorway to social communication and the environment. They were such an amazing divers group of kids. They made me forget about my pain and suffering. To the classmates, who I'm still friends with till this day, I've never felt like an outcast there. I felt like I was one of them.

Till this very day, when I walk through the school door, the memories of the other class kids who I ran into, the other class girls who greeted me with a smile. They were all so nice to me. I don't know all their names because there were so many but I am so grateful to the people who were at the school at that time. They will always be in my heart.

I met my husband in 2002. We were friends at first and started dating in 2009-10. Now we have been living together for 5 years. I casually work independently. My spouse supports me especially when I'm feeling down. He stays by me and encourages me with beautiful words. And we are on the same page as one another.

In October of 2011, I had a beautiful baby boy. The one who inspires me the most and the biggest reason why I strive to go forward, is my son.

In 2005, I graduated from the National University of Mongolia with a degree in Social Work. In September of that year, I got in the National University of Medical Sciences as a part time teacher. Along side teaching at the Health Sciences University, I am establishing a NGO named "Success Chain" in Mongolia.

The goal behind this is to use sports as a guideline to a healthy approach to life.

On the 21st of June, for the first time, we hosted a running race that consisted of 5km, 2km, and 3km races for the public.

I had two reasons for hosting this event, first, there is an invisible wall between "healthy" people and people who have a disability. People are always on either side. So, my first reason was to break down this wall so that people can live together and we wanted to send a message: "You, me and them are exactly the same." It doesn't matter if you don't have any an arm, legs, sight or hearing. It doesn't matter. We are all human beings.

We have a lot of things to think about, and in those thoughts, there are many things to be done. For example, the race that took place on June 21st, there was my grandmother who was over 70 years old. She ran through the finish line with a cane after doing the 5km race. There were people with no arms but they still raced to the finish line. A daughter holding her blind fathers hand to the finish line.

When I saw those moments, it was amazing. Next to them, I felt less. I mean, I only lost my right leg while those girls and boys in wheelchairs were racing and it moves you because they put themselves out there in public is so amazing in today's society. I can't think of any other words to describe them other than Heroic and Amazing.

There are many things that people discriminate between us. Most important things are that the perspective of how that person things of themselves, "ego". In other words, it is the thoughts of "I must do this." or "I hope I don't seem this way." "I hope they don't think of me like this and that."

On the other hand, the thought of "Can I run with this person?" the idea and understanding of going with a person with a disability is nonexistent. In a well developed country and society, they broke down the wall of discrimination. Who has been to one of those countries? I say that it is time for Mongolia to do the same.

If a goal for me is a small stepping stone, for you it might be a huge mountain. However, if we spend the same amount of effort and time into the same goal, that unity will come to life. And when that unity comes together and starts going, we will start to understand one another.

"We all suffer the same, and we all get tired the same."

When we see that we all have some needs, that wall that is in between us will eventually start to crumble and break down. We need to be together, united as one. You shouldn't think like "things are going fine with just me alone and that shouldn't happen for them." I think that "If I can do it, they can do it." That is lacking among us.

Looking at today's generation, especially the youth, children, there is a problem I see where they can't see their self value while there are so many opportunities around them, but they choose not to take them. You have all your 4 limbs, and you're so young. They why are you saying, "I can't get up", "I can't run", "I can't do sports."? It really is a shame if you think about it.

I personally think that, if there is such a thing as victory, it's not about beating or being victorious over one another, it's about overcoming the internal challenges and obstacles you face in yourself, and that is the biggest victory in life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Human Spirit: Out in Mongolia

Originally posted in The Jerusalem Post on Oct 21, 2014

‘Without saying anything, coloring in embarrassment, Saranchuluun Otgon rolled up her pant leg. Beneath the cloth were the metal wires of a prosthetic foot. Until then, no one on the staff knew.’

Otgon, wearing her prosthetic, trains for a marathon. She is leading the charge for change in Mongolia as to how people with disabilities are viewed. (photo credit:COURTESY SUCCESS CHAIN)

Saranchuluun Otgon arrived in Jerusalem in September 2007 with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Mongolia.

She was one of the 20-something students at one of the city’s most intriguing programs: the foreign student master’s degree program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Braun School of Public Health.

The course draws health professionals from far-flung countries who are dealing with some of the world’s toughest health challenges. Current students are facing Ebola, polio and HIV/AIDS, as well as ongoing issues like maternal and child health and nutrition. Nigeria, China, South Sudan, the Philippines and Haiti were among the countries represented in last year’s class, which graduated recently.

The graduates show up at the ceremony in sensational native costume, and sing emotionally in Hebrew. It’s a moment I savor every year. Then they go home, taking up challenges in cities and rural outposts; they remain loyal informal ambassadors for Israel.

When Otgon joined the program, she traveled together with a fellow student from Mongolia. The two roomed together in the campus dorms.

In case you’re unsure of where Mongolia is, remember that it’s a landlocked country bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west.

Almost half the citizens live in the capital city of Ulan Bator, infamous for air pollution and encircled by formerly nomadic Mongolians who are looking for permanent homes in the city. (By the way, the old term “Outer Mongolia” refers to the historical region of the Qing Dynasty, and is no longer in use. When I grew up, it was a synonym for something obscure and hard to find.) At the recent graduation ceremony, Dr. Yehuda Neumark, director of the Braun School, revealed a story about a former student – Otgon – that she’d finally allowed him to make public.

“Toward the end of the year of her studies, Saranchuluun Otgon came to my office. Without saying anything, coloring in embarrassment, she rolled up her pant leg. Beneath the cloth were the metal wires of a prosthetic foot. Until then, no one on the staff knew.

“The reason for her divulging this to me was that the device wasn’t working right. We quickly found our way to a prosthetic devices repair lab in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem.

When I asked Saranchuluun if anyone in her class knew about her foot, she said no one did except her roommate – her colleague and friend from Mongolia.

“I suggested that it would perhaps be beneficial to share this with others in the public health class, and she replied respectfully but adamantly that she didn’t want to.”

Why not? Said Neumark, “She explained that in her country, people with disabilities are stigmatized and there is no awareness for handicap accessibility issues, and if it became known, she would never get promoted very high in the system.”

So they kept it quiet. She finished the year and went home without any of the other students, or even the social coordinator and staff, knowing her secret.

But now it’s out – and not just among her students. A YouTube video making its away around the web reveals Otgon’s story. She was born in 1981 in what Mongolians call the Ger District, a hut city without basic sanitation on the edges of the capital. She was a straight-A student, and loved to dance; Otgon wanted to be a dancer when she grew up.

Horseback riding on vacation in the Mongolian plains, naughty kids spooked the horse and Otgon fell. There was no doctor nearby; the elders treated her injury with herbs and tea. When she got back to the city, doctors were puzzled by the continued pain. She was diagnosed as having cancer in her bone (perhaps a lesion that caused the weakness), and began a program of chemotherapy and radiation. When she was 13, her foot was amputated.

Not when Otgon applied for the program in Jerusalem, nor when she was accepted, did she mention her disability.

The technician who repaired her prosthesis in Talpiot was so moved by her story that he fixed the prosthesis for free, and suggested she come in for a tune-up when she was preparing to return home.

She never did share her personal health challenge with her fellow public health graduates.

Still, Dr. Neumark’s suggestion percolated.

Go public, he said. You have a story to inspire others.

Back in Ulan Bator, she became a fulltime lecturer at the School of Public Health in the Health Sciences University of Mongolia. Then she spent time at Columbia University in New York.

There too, like in Israel, there was much more openness about disabilities. Today, she’s back in Mongolia, working on her PhD. In the meantime, she’s married and given birth to a son.

Five months ago, Otgon outed her disability, showing the world her sneaker-clad artificial foot on Facebook.

She founded an NGO called Chain of Success and in April launched a Facebook group, “Let’s Run Mongolia!” This summer, she organized Mongolia’s first-ever public running event welcoming people with disabilities. Her prosthesis showing, she ran with men and women in wheelchairs, missing arms and legs, blind and deaf. Yes, out there in Mongolia.

Three-hundred participants and 180 volunteers participated in the Let’s Run Together marathons.

Several weeks ago, Otgon presented a TED talk for TED-Mongolia on stigma and social change. She was named the Mongolian Junior Chamber of Commerce International person of the year.

Otgon has a new dream: She wants to run in the 42-km. New York City Marathon! She wrote to Neumark: “It’s a big challenge! I am running to change social stigma and discrimination toward people like me. Also, I am trying to support other disabled people who like sports in my country. Now I am working on the website to gather money to buy another prosthetic leg for someone, another hand-cycle, a travel ticket for the New York Marathon, etc.”

Says Otgon, whom I met briefly when she was here, but has become a Facebook friend of mine, “I’m fed up with being discriminated against and embarrassed.”

Still, my favorite part of what she says has to do with all of us without these challenges.

“I’d like to say to all those who have two arms and two legs that they should use them… use them for good!”



Word: Definition List
  • intrigue: to make somebody very interested and want to know more about something
  • to draw: to move something/somebody by pulling it or them gently
  • far-flung: a long distance away
  • sensational: causing great surprise, excitement, or interest
  • to savor: to enjoy a feeling or an experience thoroughly
  • to room: to share a room, apartment, or house with one or more people
  • dorm: dormitory
  • infamous: well known for being bad or evil
  • to color: if something colors your cheeks, you go red because you are embarrassed
  • prosthetic: an artificial part of the body, for example a leg, an eye or a tooth
  • to divulge: to give somebody information that is supposed to be secret
  • adamantly: determined not to change your mind or to be persuaded about something
  • stigmatized: to treat somebody in a way that makes them feel that they are very bad or unimportant
  • sanitation: the equipment and systems that keep places clean, especially by removing human waste
  • naughty: behaving badly; not willing to obey
  • to spook: to make someone suddenly feel frightened or nervous
  • puzzled: unable to understand something or the reason for something
  • to amputate: to cut off somebody's arm, leg, finger or toe in a medical operation
  • to move: to cause somebody to have strong feelings, especially of sympathy or sadness
  • to percolate: if information or ideas percolate, they spread gradually and become known to more people
  • to out: to say publicly, especially when they would prefer to keep the fact a secret
  • stigma: feelings of disapproval that people have about particular illnesses or ways of behaving
Word MP3s:
= intrigue
= far-flung
= sensational
= savor
= dorm
= infamous
= prosthetic
= divulge
= adamantly
= stigmatize
= sanitation
= naughty
= spook
= puzzled
= amputate
= percolate
= stigma

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Thailand king 'improving' after gallbladder operation

Originally posted on the BBC on Oct 6, 2014

The Thai king, seen here in a 2012 photo, is greatly revered in his country

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej is improving following an operation at a Bangkok hospital to remove his gallbladder, said palace officials.

The 86-year-old king is revered as a near-deity in Thailand and news of his latest illness has sparked concern across the country.

He is often seen as a unifying force in Thailand which has seen political deadlock in recent years.

A stand-off between the government and royalists ended in May with a coup.

Since then, coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has been appointed prime minister, a move which was endorsed by the king.

Mr Prayuth visited the Siriraj Hospital on Monday to sign a book of support for the monarch, said AFP news agency.

'Fever lowered'

A palace statement said surgeons removed the king's gallbladder on Sunday night after it was found to be swollen.

"The operation was satisfactory and His Majesty returned to his room at 20 minutes past midnight. This morning the heartbeat has lowered, blood pressure is normal and His Majesty's fever is lower," the statement said.

Many Thais are praying for the king's health and several showed up at the hospital wearing pink and yellow which are colours associated with the king, reported The Nation.

Many are praying for the king's recovery in Thailand

The king has been admitted to the Siriraj Hospital several times in recent years. He was treated there for stomach inflammation last month.

In 2009 he was admitted for a lung infection, and spent nearly four years living in a special suite in the hospital.



Word-Definition List:
operation: the process of cutting open a part of a person's body in order to remove or repair a damaged part
deity: a god
spark: an action or event that causes something important to develop, especially trouble or violence
unify: to join people, things, parts of a country, etc. together so that they form a single unit
deadlock: a complete failure to reach agreement or settle an argument
stand-off: a situation in which no agreement can be reached
endorse: to say publicly that you support a person, statement or course of action
swollen: larger than normal, especially as a result of a disease or an injury

Word-mp3s:
= operation
= deity
= spark
= unify
= deadlock
= stand-off
= endorse
= swollen