Did Don Bosco dream of Mongolia?
Speaking of his dream with Fr. Lemoyne in Turin, Don Bosco calmly but clearly said: When will the Salesians be in China and on the two banks of the river that pass near Peking!... One on the left bank forms part of the great Empire, the other on the right bank is part of Tartaria (old name for Mongolia) . Oh! When will they go to meet the people and shake hands with them… what a glory for the congregation! But time is in God’s hands…( Memorie Biografiche, XVIII, 74)
In 1991, the government of Mongolia was faced with so many complex problems that it asked the Catholic Church to help, recognizing its commitment to young people and the poor. This meant working in a nation that for 70 years had not heard of the Gospel, and in a place where no local communities or structures existed. Among the various congregations that generously set themselves to serve the least and the last in this society were the Salesians.
The Salesians entered Mongolia in 2001. They opened a technical school at Ulaan Baatar. Together with it is an oratory and a house that has more than 70 street children. This is a drop in the ocean when compared to the ever increasing number of children on the street. Yet it is a sign of hope for the young.
In Ulaan Baatar, about 10,000 homeless children fight for survival. They have run away from family situations of violence and alcoholism. Now they feed on garbage and hide in basements and narrow suffocating hovels where heating pipes help them to resist the frost of one of the coldest capital cities in the world. This is a sad reality for Mongolia which has nearly 60% of its population still under the age of 30.
The children and youth in the care of the Salesians have welcomed the hospitality, enthusiasm and generosity which they have been shown. Don Bosco has come to be known and accepted as a Father to them and his charism strikes a chord in their hearts.
Here are some opinions on the work that the Salesians have begun in Ulaan Baatar:
Interview with Carlo Maria Savio Villegas, Salesian Rector Ulaan Baatar
"The Salesians of Don Bosco came here in 2001. They began work with the young people of Mongolia, working hard to fulfill the Church's desire to be of service, working with those most in need. Amongst the many responsibilities the Salesians have taken on, the local Church here in Mongolia has asked the Salesians to educate the youth, particularly those who have difficulty going to secondary schools, or getting a diploma, or going to university. These are the young people in Mongolian society who are most on the margins."
Father Simon Lee Ho Yeal, sdb
“I am a Salesian from Korea. I am working in this project for three years, and I have met many children… In this situation, after Mongolia was freed from communist rule, many families were destroyed and their children took to the streets, with no home, food or school. And so I gather these children. Now I live with them. Is it possible to bring about a better set up in this place? I would love to give them the opportunity…
Mother of a student of DBITSC Urangerel
"We moved into the city to give our four children some future because there is no hope living in the country. In the country we were able to live thanks to the animals, but we lost all our livestock because of the drought. My husband has a cerebral and lung disease. He has already been operated on. Even if my husband has cerebral problems, he tries to work outside, repairing TVs and radios, in the hope of feeding the family and helping our children. He cannot do heavy work as he is too weak. My son and I are looking for work, but sometimes we do not even have money for the bus fare. I do not want our children to give up studying because we are poor. Our children need education if they are to have a future."
Boy- student at DBITSC
“ Hello everybody! My name is Borkhuu. I am a student in first year car mechanics. I was not able to finish my secondary schooling and I joined this school. I have studied many new things that I could not have studied in secondary school. So, I want to thank those people who helped me study here. Thank you for giving a hand and for having listened to us students and been willing to hear the story of our lives.”
Girl-student in DBITSC
“Hello everyone! My name is Helen and I live in Ulaan Baatar, in Mongolia. I am one of the first girl students in Don Bosco. I wanted to become a dress-maker and my dream came true when I enrolled in this school.
My life before this was very hard. I had to work in the market because I had to help my mother and feed my smaller brothers. But this school has given me the opportunity to study and I have skills I can use for life. The teachers and priests in this school really do their best to teach us many things. Now I am studying subjects for university and I have many possibilities of continuing my studies.
One day I too want to help young people like Don Bosco did.”