Day 3: Euro 2012, Soccer Camp & The Ger District (Steve Shares)

DAY 3: Tuesday, July 3
No game has a worldwide following like “the beautiful game,” and that has been exceedingly evident here in Mongolia. Euro 2012 was a big hit in Ulaanbaatar, with bars setting up large outdoor tents with twenty-foot-screen televisions broadcasting the games, all of which were televised live at 2:45 a.m. Mongolian time. In fact, Paul, Justin, and I arose at 2:00 a.m. on Monday (July 2nd here), walked to The Great Khaan Irish Pub, and watched Spain thrash Italy 4-0 in the championship game, surrounded by hundreds of young Mongolians who love their soccer and any excuse for a fun time. But we have witnessed soccer’s worldwide influence most directly via our work with The Children’s Place.

First, some background. When Eric and I began seriously discussing this trip over a year ago, we sought a way for the non-medical team members to contribute at the orphanage. Justin, being a soccer lover (he has played since he was small) came up with the idea of putting on a soccer clinic for the kids. Rita leapt at the idea, and she and the co-founder of The Children’s Place, Margie, went to work on the local logistics. Somehow they learned about a soccer field behind the 97th School (what we would call PS 97, and which looks from the outside as if it should be condemned) that can be rented out and, amazingly, is made of field turf. They rented the field for a couple of hours per day for the clinics. Some sessions would be for the younger kids from the orphanage along with kids from a nearby ger district.

To help us understand the ger district kids, Margie drove us through the area. Mongolia has suffered through a succession of especially harsh winters which have wiped out the flocks of many of the nomadic herders. With their sources of livelihood gone, the nomads move to the city, set up their ger, fence off the small parcel of land each family is allotted, and try to eke out a living. Some 10,000 people live in the local district alone, and yet there is no school; the government simply cannot keep up with the influx.  Deeply rutted dirt roads wind through the ger district, and children can be found playing soccer and basketball in the street. That’s when they’re not helping to support their families by selling wood alongside the paved roads leading into the heart of the city.

In order to give these kids an opportunity to attend the camp, Margie drives up and down the rugged streets and asks kids if they want to go to a soccer camp. She insists that the kids ask their parents’ permission, and naturally many of the parents decline–who is this strange Westerner asking to take their kids off in her car?  But some agree, and Margie, knowing that over the course of the week word will spread through the district that the soccer camp is above board, has a hunch that our numbers will grow from day to day. And since Mongolian kids love soccer but have little opportunity to play on an actual field, the clinic represents a first for many of them. Thanks to the good people at soccer.com, who donated supplies, we have over a dozen balls with which to play.

Yesterday we had a small group of 10 or 12 kids, five of whom have been adopted from infancy by Rita (2) and Margie (3), the remainder coming from the ger district. (Rita’s and Margie’s kids are all fluent in English, but Anar, a university student interning at the orphanage, is on hand to translate for the others.) Today, however, the numbers have doubled, including kids from the orphanage and even more ger district kids than yesterday, just as Margie predicted. When the van driver shows up from the district, literally 20 kids cascade out of a minivan built for maybe 8 (not at all out of the ordinary in Mongolia).  We are in business.

Justin takes charge and, with Anar translating, sets up a series of drills. Natalie arrived in Mongolia late last night, and she and Paul dive in and help Justin out with the drills.


Paul playing goalie


Natalie, Paul, Steve, and Justin


Kids lining up for drills

I stay off to the side, watching the drills and chatting with Margie, who is every bit as amazing as Rita. After a while and during a break in my conversation, I hear a child’s voice say “Hey,” and I look over to see Usukhbayar.  He has a soccer ball in his hands and wants to kick it around with me.

After a while Usukhbayar tires of the soccer and points over to the adjacent basketball court. We head over there and shoot baskets, and soon are joined by a cute little girl about 8 years old. Usukhbayar points to her and says one of the few English words he seems to know: “sister.”  She tells me that her name is Oyundari (I must warn you that Mongolian does not transliterate easily to English, and thus all my spellings are mere shots in the dark).  The three of us play basketball for a while and eventually we are interrupted by snack break. It’s easy to see how people can fall in love with these wonderful kids and bring them into their families.

The rest of the clinic goes very smoothly, and the kids spend the second hour playing a game. They clearly are having a blast, and I hope they realize how much they owe the experience to Justin.

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1 Comment

  1. Treesa Soud

     /  July 7, 2012

    Just spent almost an hour reviewing all the posts. Many brought me to tears. So many days I think about Jonathan, how much would have grown, what he would be doing, and how much more he would be doing with his musical talents. This trip and the wonderful work you are all doing is an amazing tribrute to him. I know he is with you. God bless you all!

    Reply

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