I am writing a series of posts about Nomad Green’s workshops from 5/4-5/14 in Ulaanbaatar. This post is the first of them.
“They burn used tires just to get warm?” I asked.
“You have no idea how cold it is in Mongolia’s winter” Boum replied.
As a Taiwanese living all of my life in this humid and hot island, I’ve never imagined that one day I would visit Mongolia, make dozens of friends there, and share their concerns about their crumbling mother land.
“Nomad Green” is a little bit different from other RV projects. First, it is not initiated by local citizens at the very beginning. Nomad Green is an idea brought out by General Secretary Lin Cheng-hsiou (Axiou) of Mongolian and Tibetan Foundation(MTF) in Taiwan 4 years ago(August, 2005) before he took this position. In Aug, 2005, four Asia Green Parties gathered for a conference in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Axiou, who represented Taiwanese Green Party at that time, exchanged a lot of ideas with Boum-Yalagch of Mongolian Green Party. They both believed that Mongolian environment could be damaged easily if Mongolian citizens did not act upon it on their own and if the world did not hear their voices.
This January, I left my job in a internet company in Taiwan, and was invited by Axiou to join MTF for this project. Back then we only had certain imaginations about this project and I, to tell the truth, knew almost nothing about temporary Mongolia, not to mention the environmental issues happening in this country. I started to study in Mongolian environmental problems and the complicated but interesting temporary history and society. Also, I was responsible for looking for funding, so I wrote dozens of versions of plans for Nomad Green. It was not easy to get funding but fortunately we got some and luckily become a grantee of Rising Voices.
Boum introduces Ms. Otgonsuren Jargal(Otgoo) to join this project as Chief Editor. Otgoo is a active member of Green Coalition of Ulaanbaatar, and she had working experiences as journalist and editor in both mainstream and independent media of Mongolia. Besides native Mongolian language, she can speak good English, French, and Russian. I shall let her to talk about herself but she is not available recently since she is busy editing posts written by Nomad Green participants. But you will get to know her soon.
Axiou and I arrived at Ulaanbaatar on 11pm, May 2nd and Davaa (Guo Liang) picked us up at the Chinggis Khaan International Airport. Davva is a Mongolia-born-Chinese, a high school student Axiou met in Ulaanbaatar 2 years ago who lives with his family. The economic situation of his family is not good and the rental for a regular flat in downtown UB is high so they live at the ger area where about half of the residents in UB lives. Axiou and I invited Davaa to join Nomad Green team as a workshop assistant since he is fluent in Mongolian and Mandarin.
On 5/3, Axiou and I visited Boum’s office and met Otgoo in person for the first time though we had been exchanging ideas for more than 2 months relentlessly in nomadgreen editor’s google group. We checked again our plan and schedule for the first four workshops in two weeks and made some changes. We decided not to ask all participants to open their own personal blogs, instead, we wanted them to know how to contribute on Nomad Green website, know how to use the map to report issues, and how to upload photos and videos, how to twitter and play with the Facebook group. Personal blogs are good, but considering the limited time and access to Internet for most of our participants, maintaining a personal blog might be too time-consuming.
The first workshop began on 16:00 pm on 5/4. Each workshop is divided into two days, 4 hours for each day. Otgoo found a perfect venue for our workshops thanks to her experience as journalist before: Press Institute of Mongolia. The office of Press Institute was established in 1995 under the Free Press project financed by a grant from the Danish Agency for International Development (DANIDA) according to a Mongolian-Danish governmental agreement. It has a nice computer classroom with about 15 functioning computers and fast enough Internet connection. Otgoo and I arrived at the Press Institute on 14:30 to prepare. We soon found that there was no projector and the projector in Boum’s office was borrowed. So I use a USB disk to install Axiou’s and my presentation file on all computers one by one so our participants could see them on the screens.
Soon, our participants came. They were all on time, for that both Otgoo and I were surprised because the traffic in downtown UB was a mess and being late was not going to be anyone’s fault. But all our participants were on time. Because it was the first day of Nomad Green’s first workshop so Axiou and I talked about “Why Nomad Green?” at first for 40 minutes. You can see our presentation here and here. Axiou and I spoke in English and Boum and Otgoo interpreted for us.
I then spent about 30 minutes talking about the basic ideas of blogs and citizen media. During this period I asked them to try Google Map to search for our location or a mining field in Erdenet or the only wind power site in Mongolia which had went bankrupt and ceased to run. I also asked them to use Google News Search to find Mongolian environmental news to show how poor those coverage was on international media. And then Boum talked (in Mongolian) about the environmantal issues in Mongolia and shared his experience as a major environmental activist in Mongolia for more than a decade. Participants enjoyed his 20 minutes short speech very much and were inspired a lot.
Some of our participants were also environmental activists themselves, and some were independent journalist, while most of them were citizens and students who cared about the dramatic Mongolian environmental changing issues. I guessed Otgoo used up all her connections to recruit these more than 60 participants for the four workshops. Before going to dinner, I asked each participant to figure out a topic or issue they wanted to write about. Each of them could either write a first-hand report as a citizen journalist, express their concerens toward a particular environmental problem, or talk about how they deal with the air pollution, water pollution, sand storm, and trash problem in his/her own daily life. And each one had to present his/her topic and its general idea in front of everyone after dinner.
We had dinner together at Press Institute’s dinning room. The dinner was good and I used my digital camera to shoot some videos of our participants while they are eating and chatting. They quickly finished their dinner because they wanted to use more time to prepare the presentation.
Presentation was the most interesting part in Day 1. We divided 16 of them into 3 groups, and each group had to decide a central topic/issue while each group member had to develop a particular approach to look at this topic/issue. For example, Group A focus on air pollution in UB, and Member X of Group A can tackle this issue by discussing one of the causes of the severe pollution, Mmeber Y can talk about the policy and govermental approach to handle it and why air quality still got worse and worse with so much budget each year to fight against the pollution.(I heard some very interesting and shocking reasons, but I would let Nomad Green particiapants to write about that on their own.)
The controversy of underground water pollution and newly-constructed buldings and restrictions not being implemented, the air quality in UB, and the pollution in Tuul River were the 3 topics presented by our 3 groups. I enjoyed their presentation though it took more time than we expected because of the time of interpretation. We finished the presentation and that day’s workshop until 8:20 pm. Before the end, I asked all of them to think about the outline of their first post on Nomad Green–title, first paragraph, photos/videos, argument, statistics, location/map…and we said “see you tomorrow”.
Boum, Otgoo, Axiou and I went together to a beer bar nearby to review the workshop. I was responsible for the bad time management, and we all agreed that we should engage our participants more by asking questions instead of just speaking. We then previewed the lessons for the next day. (to be continued)