KHOVD, MONGOLIA: Nutsgee Laghvadorj, 15, is a herder’s daughter. She lives in the Myangad soum (county) of Khovd aimag (province), about twenty kilometers away from the nearest school, across dirt roads and without any reliable transportation.
Many of the families in Myangad soum live so far away from the school that young students, like Nutsgee, must live in a dormitory nine months a year to receive an education. Without good roads and access to transportation, students only travel home from the school for holidays and summer vacation.
Nutsgee is fine with that, as her education is important to her and her family: she wants to be an economist and study math, but it was hard to study in a dormitory that hasn’t been updated since 1975.
“Mostly, I wanted to go home, but because of school, I stayed,” she says.
At the dormitory, there was no place that Nutsgee, her siblings, or her friends could put their things. For lack of a chair, Nutsgee would study on the floor of her room. The doors wouldn’t lock — or even close.
In 2016, Mongolia committed to improving health and education services through social accountability, having citizens report on the services they received and work with the government and local partners to make changes — all part of its Open Government Partnership action plan.
Ten provinces took part in the initiative, “Mainstreaming Social Accountability in Mongolia,” run by the World Bank. They worked to implement a vast array of reforms: improved dental health, better patient care in hospitals, and improved schools and teachers. In Myangad and the surrounding province, the Mongolian Education Alliance (MEA) organized trainings for local citizens, educators, government officials, and the private sector to teach them how to involve citizens and report on education services – and how they could improve them through collaboration and co-creation.
In Myangad, making improvements was an uphill battle. The head of the governor’s office of Myangad, Chadraabal Ulaankhuu, spoke frankly about the government’s perspective before they began implementing this commitment. “Honestly, before the project, we did not care about the public influence,” he says. “Generally, the government should be in charge in all matters…and all those goals must be achieved within the state budget. We did not pay attention to the public’s view.”
The community stepped up to the challenge. They talked about what was wrong with their school — and pinpointed the dormitory as a hurdle. Parents, teachers, and administrators collaborated with the local government, civil society organizations, and businesses to improve the dormitory.
“My parents and the citizens of Gahait Bag [her herding village] helped out with the renovation for our rooms,” says Nutsgee. “They brought new furniture and fixed the broken tables and chairs. They also fixed the bed mattress, sewed our curtains and fixed our shelves.”
Her neighbors in the dormitory saw their rooms fixed, too. A local bank refurbished one room; another herding village fixed another.
Along with the dormitory, students’ prospects have improved. Grades have gone up, and several students have won national competitions. Quality of life in the dormitory has improved.
Nutsgee smiles when she talks about her “new” dorm room. “Now that [the dormitory] has a home-like environment, there is motivation to study and my feelings of wanting to go home has decreased,” she says.
The school’s principal, Jamsranjou Batsaikhan, beams with pride when he talks about Nutsgee and his students. He’s got a good working relationship with the government now. Chadraabal visits regularly, having realized how fruitful collaboration with citizens can be.
“The Myangad soum citizens used to think that government offices should only be run by civil servants, such as the governor’s office, schools, and hospitals,” says Chadraabal. “After the project implementation, our residents have understood that to increase the quality and service of such organizations, their own ideas, influences and voices are required.”
The project will keep going, too. “Now we are working on the sustainability of this program,” says Jamsranjou. “For the next step, with the partnership of the local government, we all have agreed to continue this project and renovate our kindergarten in the same way.”