Driving through the muddy streets leading to the Bayasgalant day care centre, one will see precarious housing, stray dogs and strewn garbage. This vision echoes what Boogii, one of the social workers at the centre, told us: in families of the Ulan Bator ger (yurt) districts, parents are often unemployed or earning too little money to offer their children adequate living conditions and send them to school.
All of a sudden though, as the front door of the centre opens, another world of light, colours, warmth and joy appears. Welcome to Bayasgalant!
Outside, a group of pre-teenage boys is playing basketball, shouting at each other and laughing loud. Near them, younger kids are leaping across old tyres, the oldest with agility and the youngest imitating them, clumsy and cute at the same time. Meanwhile, Mickey Mouse and his painted friends are watching them from the walls with large smiles.
At the entrance, each child has his own bag and pair of house shoes. Woe betide the one who will forget to change shoes, the house is kept immaculate!
10am! It is breakfast time: a bowl of warm porridge and milk tea is served to everyone to start the day with energy. The children who are there will start school in the afternoon, while others will come back from classes.
Upstairs, some children are supervised as they do their homework. Some others are reading books or chatting impishly. In the adjacent house, 20 actors aged 80 between all of them are rehearsing for the theatre play to come, directed by their patient kindergartener. So is the Bayasgalant daycare centre: a place where kids receive what they need to be healthy and happy, in the present and the future.
Soon, the older kids will be able to grow vegetables and flowers we seeded together. The most patient of them also learned how to take care of small tomato plants. Water fights were the reward for their focussed and dedicated work. To bring nature education to the very little ones too, the kindergarden teachers came up with the brilliant idea of building a whole corner dedicated to environmental biology where the kids will be able to put their hands in soil, rocks, grass, surrounded by poster showing Mongolian landscapes, and even witness how ants build galleries. Ferried about from one DIY store to the next by the energetic team, we have already gathered the equipment to renovate the greenhouse and build the biology corner.
Now though, between the Bayasgalant team, us, you or the kids, who is the most impatient to see all of this finished?