12-year-old Dulamsuren in Mongolia is one of the cover girls for our Gift Catalog this Christmas!
Today, meet the World Vision staffer who first discovered Dulamsuren's family in their time of need, and with a gift of 20 sheep set them on the path to achieving their dreams.
You notice it right away when you see Nasaa and Dulamsuren together.
The two have chemistry; much like a younger and older sister trading secrets, or a protégé and a coach, or an older best friend who’s showing you how to get through life.
I was in Bayankhongor province of Mongolia to research and write about Dulamsuren, the 12-year-old “cover girl” of the World Vision Gift Catalog, which arrives in homes in December.
As the “star” of the Christmas Gift Catalog, Dulamsuren represents millions of children for whom medicine, animals, education are real gifts that last.
That story centers on how a Gift Catalog gift of lambs transformed the life of Dulamsuren and her semi-nomadic family in central Mongolia.
Nasanbayar, 40, a World Vision staffer, plays a critical part of that story—more on that in a bit.
Nasaa’s job title is “Transformational Development Facilitator,” but that doesn’t really cover it as she sits alongside Dulamsuren in the family ger, or yurt. They’re enjoying a moment, paging through a thick binder that Dulamsuren calls her “dream book.”
Though she hopes to be a teacher one day, the dream book hints at other possibilities: second place in a language competition, second place in a singing competition, a coloring book from her sponsor in Australia, photos from a visit arranged for children belonging to a youth club organized by World Vision Mongolia, photos of Mongolian stars clipped from a magazine.
They are Dulamsuren’s tantalizing dreams of a brighter future made more tangible because of “big sister, Nasaa.”
Dulamsuren lives in the Valley of the Painting Pen, a vast grassland roamed by Chinggis Khaan, and in the shadow of a mountain range referred to as the Teeth of the Saw.
As it is beautiful, winter in the Valley of the Painting Pen can be brutal.
The zud—Mongolian for severe winter—can decimate millions of livestock and with it the livelihoods of Mongolia’s 300,000 semi-nomadic herders.
In 2002, Dulamsuren’s father and mother, Boldbaatar and Dolgorsuren, lost almost everything they had to the zud. One morning they emerged from their ger to find almost all their livestock piled together, frozen to death.
They retreated to Ulziit, the nearby village center, dependent on government assistance. In 2009, Boldbaatar decided to try to resume the semi-nomadic life. But it was hard.
Nasaa, a brand-new World Vision staffer then, was surveying families in the Bayankhongor area.
She visited Boldbaatar and Dolgorsuren, saw their meager supplies and, most telling, only a few animals outside. If a herder’s measure of wealth is the number of animals he owns, this family was struggling to make it.
But what haunted her that day was meeting with three young children: Dulamsuren, her older sister, and especially her older brother Baasanjav, who was born unable to speak but was trying to reach out to Nasaa.
“I was really heart-broken to see this boy wanted to talk to me,” Nasaa says. “His mouth was moving, but he couldn’t say anything.”
“I wanted to do something for this family,” she remembers. “If I cannot help this boy, at least do something for this family. And give them something.”
As Nasaa re-tells the story, she’s overcome with tears. Togi, World Vision communications specialist and translator, hands her a tissue.
Partnering with local officials, she helped Boldbaatar kick-start his return to nomadic herding with 20 lambs from the World Vision Gift Catalog. Today he has 300 goats and sheep, 20 yaks, and 12 horses, and the family is thriving.
Nasaa’s passion to help children stems from a childhood incident that still marks her today. Sitting in class each day, a boy would take his seat near her and she would see that his face was badly bruised.
“It broke my heart,” she says.
She wanted to talk to the boy’s stepfather and tell him that he shouldn’t beat his child, and instead listen to his dreams. She thought there could be many children like her classmate and she decided to become someone who would help children.
“I thought there might be many children just like him,” she says, “so I wanted to be someone who could help.”
Having heard that World Vision worked with children, Nasaa started volunteering. She found that she had a natural affinity with children; they gravitated to her easy, comfortable style.
Nasaa was born in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, but her family moved to Ulziit village center where she grew up. She’s at home on the isolated plains. With her pants tucked into her high boots, she joins Dulamsuren and Dolgorsuren for morning chores or she’ll settle in and play traditional Mongolian games with the children.
She says she does “a bunch of everything,” and as a wife and mother of four boys, she learned about hard work from her parents and grandmother, who was a nomadic herder.
Her job includes coordinating with local officials and local hospitals to teach mothers how to make nutritious food, working with the unemployed, or coordinating vocational training programs.
She also works in the schools, leading children’s clubs and youth advocacy training. She oversees 432 children in World Vision’s sponsorship program in the Bayankhongor area.
During the school year, children come to her to talk about their problems. “I would like to talk with sister Nasaa,” they say. They want to follow her into working with other children when they’re older.
“’What shall I do now?’” they ask. “’How can I prepare myself to become someone like you?’”
Nasaa’s official title is Transformational Development Facilitator, but to Dulamsuren and other children, it could well be Transformational Dream Facilitator.
Read more about how hope is the best gift you can give this Christmas … and how for Dulamsuren's family, that hope was sheep!