Over the past two months, our Slow Motion journey took us across the incredible landscapes of Siberia and Mongolia. We thought that timelapse video would be an oddly appropriate way to document these adventures... In fast-forward!
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Travelling across Ömnögovi, the southernmost province of Mongolia, in the Gobi desert, means experiencing a deep dive into the reality of climate change in the country. Rising temperatures in recent years have made this arid region an even more challenging place for nomads to thrive.
It is almost a surprise then, when walking through the dusty, wind-blown streets of the province's capital Dalanzadgad, one suddenly stumbles upon the entrance to Global Passport, a community-based social enterprise and state-of-the-art learning centre.
Global Passport is a Bookbridge affiliate, primarily offering local people English classes and practice. Battuul, former tourist guide and English teacher in a secondary school, now the head of the Dalanzadgad’s Bookbridge center, remembers:
"When I was still working in tourism in the region, a few years ago, the land was much more humid. The unpaved roads were softer and one could easily travel. Small rivers would flow across the desert, offering the nomads and travellers numerous oases."
Like many Mongolians, Battuul is strongly attached to the nature in her country. She sees in sustainable tourism a unique opportunity to avoid damaging it further.
Travelling around Mongolia after we met Battuul, we could only agree with her. Through a few pictures portraying places and people, we have tried to illustrate the incredible potential of sustainable tourism in Mongolia for preserving the environment, all the while boosting the economy and preserving the strong cultural identity of the country.
Tourism is primarily about the meeting of two cultures willing to benefit from each other.
This is also what Bookbridge offers: future social entrepreneurs from western countries strengthen their business skills by working together with entrepreneurs from developing countries. The goal is the creation of new independent social entreprises in rural places, such as Global Passport. In Mongolia, the Bookbridge program has already given birth to 11 learning centers, 4 out of them being established as social enterprises.
Places like the Bookbridge centres in Mongolia offer a very interesting setting for nurturing the development of sustainable tourism. Besides providing English education, the centres could offer a curriculum covering the large palette of skills needed for responsible tourists guides: basic environmental sciences and conservation education, sustainable tourism practices applied to transport, housing, eating, etc.
A new Slow Motion Project... Why not?
We are currently exploring the possibility of partnering with Bookbridge Mongolia to combine the high potential of their students, their established network of learning centres, and our love for sustainability and nature education into the perfect balance of responsible social and economic development for all.
Your Slow Mo team
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?