A group of college students from MIU every other Saturday visit a holding center for children picked up on Ulaanbaatar streets. The facility is run by the Metropolitan police and funded by World Vision. It is clean and neat. The children are not.
Theoretically the children are between the ages of 7-13. But the 25-30 children I saw were as young as 5 and as old as 15 by my reckoning. The police and WV staff look for the parents and return the children to them. Many parents are drunks and send the children back out onto the streets. So there is a revolving door kind of coming and going happening. If the parents are not found within a set time period, the child is sent to another facility, a longer term one which is more like prison in all ways. It is difficult to establish any relationships with the children because they are only there for a few weeks.
Some of the children were developmentally delayed (FAS?) or damaged–some with scars, or tattoos, nails through ears. The older boys were surrepticiously passing cigarettes and playing cards. There was a lot of bravado toughness. They have to be petty thieves to survive on the street. The older and stronger lorded it over the younger: pinching, hitting, taking, making them submit–even in our presence. All of them had been given prior to our coming bags with candy, apples, soda. It is a Buddhist custom after a funeral, a belief that making children happy, or giving joy to them, helps the deceased.
The college students performed a song in English with hand gestures in which the children delighted. Many of the boys wanted to wrestle Joshua. Some of the older children had, and wished for, the opportunity for a bit of English language study with the college kids. Many of the kids joined hands with us just to whirl around in a circle, like dancing without music. They all wanted attention of some sort: a smile, a hug, to be spoken with, looked in the eyes.
I took photos which many of the children delighted in since they could see themselves right away. One boy wanted to take a photo himself with the camera and when I refused he himself refused to be photographed. There were several young girls, one who had a treated dog bite on her leg. One boy, who looked like a young Christopher Walken, seemed mild and sweet in the midst of the posturing. He had tears in his eyes when we left, and hugged one of the young men as if his heart would break.
One young imp had problems with his eyes or vision and seemed to be not so smart. But how much of that was an act? He was a sly thing. He saw we also had brought snacks –which were not utilized since they had plenty–and kept trying to access them. When thwarted, he lashed out with kicks and hits. At the end, one young woman said to him, “let’s go!”. He joined hand with her and had a tantrum, then a sort of fit, when he was not allowed to come with us. Many of the kids understood more than a little English. Which makes me wonder if English-speaking tourists are a source of food during the warm parts of the year. The children also knew about praying and said ‘code words’ to indicate they understood how the game was played in some circles: “hallelujah!”, “amen”, “praise the Lord!”, with their sideways smiles, knowing looks, and hands held together in ‘prayer’.
A good short film about where Mongolian street children live in the winter.