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Enkhbold got on a bus and travelled into the city centre. He was wandering alone on the city streets, cold and bored, when another boy asked him to join his group in an underground tunnel. Enkhbold was the youngest and smallest of the 10 children in the tunnel so they nicknamed him “Youngst”. Although the tunnel was cramped, dark and stinking, it was still the best option for him. Enkhbold made a living by begging and using the money to buy bread and ice cream, and sometimes a candle to light his way in the tunnel.
One winter’s day, social workers from World Vision provided the group with hot meals. Soon they asked if he would like to live in the street children’s centre. Enkhbold thought, “I don’t know what the centre is like, but as I do not like living in this hole, I better go with them.” So he did and the Light House bacame his new home.
“I like living here. They teach me and I can learn things. I can also play with balls all the time,” Enkhbold said. He is learning to read and write at the local state school, an opportunity he never had before. He is very proud of himself. Talking about his future, he responded with determination. “I would like to become a technician specialising in repairing vehicles when I grow up.”
His sister also came to the centre, but she found it difficult to adjust after living on the streets for most of her teenage years. She has gone back to the streets.
Otgonzul, aged 14, comes from a family of 12. Her father is unemployed and her mother is a cleaner. Her mother earns enough to pay for electricity and some other essentials but can’t afford to buy enough food for everyone. As Otgonzul’s father and brother beat her when they were drunk, she decided to leave home with a friend. She was about 10 years old then.
When she first went on the street some children took away all her things and forced her to beg and find money for them. “I was quite helpless and under their authority,” she says. She stayed at a childcare centre for a while, but left after one of the house parents beat her.
She was living in the basement of a building when the Police arrested her as a robbery suspect. After they freed her she took to wandering the streets, earning money by begging or stealing. She heard about the World Vision drop-in centre in December 1997 when the house parents came to the hole where she was living and invited the group of street children to stay.
She left the centre several times to wander around the city with her younger sister but now lives there full-time. “I don’t want to go home. My mother asks me to come home but when I go back my older brothers beat me,” says Otgonzul. “I really like being at school in our centre because I learn to read, how to write and I learn how to add – mathematics. I would like to be a dressmaker.”
Naranbat, 16, left home in1994. His older brother is a well-known boxer but has trouble dealing with anger and would often abuse the family. Naranbat has always liked reading, and used to spend his spare time in the public library. If he read too long, and was late, he would be too afraid to go home in case his brother beat him.
After he ran away from home, Naranbat lived in the basements of apartment buildings, wandering the streets during the day-time. He began drinking, and was once arrested by the police.
Now that he is in the Light House, Naranbat has given up drinking. He enjoys the classes there, and is even learning English. The centre staff speak well of him as a calm, obedient and self-controlled person. Because of his wide reading, he seems to think more deeply than his classmates.
One day Naranbat would like to go to university to learn foreign languages. He knows he will have to work for many years first to earn enough money to go, but he feels it is worth it so that he can realise his dream of becoming a translator.
Battsetseg is 8, but like many Mongolian children she seems younger than her years. She used to live with her mother, but had to go to her grandmother when her mother was arrested. Even when her mother was released from prison, she didn’t want her daughter. Battsetseg and her grandmother moved around, living with relatives, but in the winter of 1998, they had nowhere left to go, so Battsetseg’s grandmother brought her to the Light House.
Tulga, 14, is from Darkhan, a city about 300 kilometres from Ulaanbaatar. When his parents died in 1995, his uncle took Tulga’s younger sister to an orphanage, but left Tulga alone in Darkan. For the next two years, Tulga lived on the Darkhan – Ulaanbaatar train, sleeping on the luggage racks in the crowded passenger carriages, and collecting empty bottles and cans to sell. Sometimes the police would catch him and beat him.
Later he left the trains and lived in the tunnels in Ulaanbaatar. He joined a group who lived by robbing small shops, called tuuts. Then in late 1998 he was arrested for theft and spent some time in a detention centre. Fifteen boys slept in a 3 x 4 metre room, with nothing to do and very little food. Then a World vision social worker who was at the court saw him crying, heard he was an orphan and offered to take him to the Light House. The court agreed to let him go on two year’s probabtion, so long as he stays at the centre.
Munkhzul, 15, was one of the first children to come to the Light House. His mother had died and his father had re-married. His step-mother was kind, but his father drank frequently, and when he was drunk he would beat Munkhzul.
After leaving home, Munkhzul lived in a tunnel with eight other children. They would do small jobs for a shop near their hole, like sweeping or taking the garbage out, and the shop-owner would pay them with food. Sometimes they would beg.
Munkhzul was very happy to come to the Light House when it opened in December 1997. As he says, “I like the Light House because I have a comfortable bed to sleep in, delicious food and I can go to school now and do art classes.”
He hopes to be an artist one day, and already his paintings show great promise. He likes to paint the Mongolian countryside, “to show the world my beautiful country of which I am very proud.”