Hello to all my friends and teachers at New Mexico State University, and to those I’ll meet when I return there in Fall, 2012. I am serving a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Altai, western Mongolia. It is a high desert town surrounded by rocky brown mountains, so arriving here last August was in some ways like taking US 70 into Las Cruces. It felt weirdly familiar. It is a beautiful place, and the people of Altai are very kind and generous people. From the school and community where I received so much friendship and support, I’d like to ask a favor…
Holy Mount Monastery Complex Renovation Project
My co-worker in Altai is D. Enkhtsetseg. She is the Foreign Language Methodologist for Russian and English teachers in Gobi-Altai Province. She is the mother of three children who attend school here, and she wants to do something meaningful for her community, and so she has asked me to help her to contribute to a tree-planting project at the monastery here. The word ‘desertification’ does not make a compelling headline, but it is a vast and growing problem that affects the health and livelihoods of millions, as well as the health of the planet. It occurs when over-grazing and over-cultivating loosen and dry the soil, which is then blown away by the wind. There is no longer soil to retain groundwater, and so water becomes surface runoff and rivers dry up. In the past 50 years, 500-700 rivers in Mongolia have disappeared. The town I live in is surrounded by dry riverbeds. Mongolia sits at the center of a crisis. Deforestation is a major cause of desertification, and here in Mongolia, reforestation projects only cover a small percentage of the area lost annually.
Our project has recently been approved by Peace Corps. You can go to this site, search my last name (Honold), read a summary of the project, and contribute anonymously, any amount you like:
“If you plant a tree, you earn merit in this life. If you plant two trees, you earn merit in the next.” It’s a Buddhist proverb, but the trees don’t care if you’re not Buddhist. If you’re willing to take Pascal’s wager, that’s not a bad deal.
The trees will be planted at the Holy Mount Monastery Complex, which shares the site of the Gobi-Altai Province 70th Anniversary Memorial.
It is a place of civic pride and religious importance. N. Enkhjargal, the head lama of the monastery, last year submitted a plan to the Gobi-Altai Provincial government, and received a commitment by the governor to pay 25% of the costs. His plan involves renovation of the monastery building and the planting of hundreds of trees. Our part of the project involves the planting of 500 more trees on 1.5 hectares of the complex grounds; the planting of flower beds and native grasses; the construction of a pipe and a reservoir to carry water from a nearby spring to the seedlings and saplings; and a modest sign commemorating American-Mongolian cooperation in the project.
The project will involve S. Gantuya’s Red Cross student volunteers, from Altai School #3, and D. Orgilmaa’s graduating students from School #1. Involving these young people (the future leaders and decision makers of Mongolia) is crucial to fostering the new awareness called for by the Mongolian government and by the UN. Right now, ‘awareness’ is all Mongolia can afford. It is a young democracy (1991), and a poor country.