LLL of Mongolia
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 3, June-July 2004, p. 66.
I moved to Mongolia in the fall of 2000 with my husband, Paul, who works for the US Peace Corps and the US Embassy, and our daughter, Kalli. She was nearly three at the time, still nursing, and I had just been accredited the previous January. I was eager to start my first Group—the first ever in Mongolia.
But after we moved, I discovered I was pregnant and required some adjustment time. So I started planning and set the date for the first meeting shortly after my return from the US for the birth of my second child.
Starting my first Group as a lone Leader was a daunting prospect. The encouragement of fellow Leaders and the help of Sarah Hung, the Area Coordinator of Leaders of Future Areas in Asia, made it much easier than I had thought. Because I had a new baby and no members or sister Leaders to help out, I planned meetings in my home. That way I could set up for the meeting the night before while my children slept.
The first meeting took place in October of 2001 with 12 women attending, one of whom is still an active member and considering LLL leadership. To say I was thrilled is an understatement! Women found out about the Group mostly through word of mouth. I told everyone at my daughter’s playgroup, and the word spread. Imagine my excitement at finding out that our upstairs neighbor was a retired Leader! When she saw the LLL poster I’d hung on my door to help women find the meeting, she quickly let me know she’d be happy to help in any way. She also attended the first meeting and has sent us several new members.
Over time, our attendance at meetings has fluctuated from as few as one or two women during the dead of winter (when it’s -30 degrees Fahrenheit/-34.5 degrees Celsius and many people either stay in the house or leave the country for warmer weather) to as many as 10 and lots of children of all ages. Because there is a large expatriate community here, our membership is international in nature. In addition to Mongolian mothers, we have members from Canada, Hungary, Romania, Switzerland, and the US. Currently, our membership is evenly split between international memberships, which include New Beginnings, and local memberships, which do not include a subscription to the magazine. All include a subscription to our Asian breastfeeding mothers’ newsletter, Close to the Heart.
Just recently, I’ve recruited the Group’s first Leader Applicant. The current Applicant was the first ever paying member of our Group. She moved back to the US shortly after joining and recently returned, still nursing her three-year-old son. I wasted no time approaching her, only to find out that she’d already considered it! Since then, I’ve asked three other long time members, all of whom are interested in LLL leadership and are either thinking about it or waiting for the right time to start.
There is a strong cultural tradition of breastfeeding here. Wrestling is a national sport here and they say that the best wrestlers were breastfed for six years! However, we are seeing the effects of formula availability and advertising and strictly scheduled feedings, and my most frequent helping call is from new mothers saying, “I don’t have enough milk!” I try to write press releases for the local newspapers several times a year, and they have been well received. There have also been two articles about our Group, complete with photos. That is always good advertising.
I have lots of ideas for projects I would like to pursue here in Mongolia. I do breastfeeding outreach by speaking at local Bradley birth classes, and I will have a table at a health conference this spring; but there is so much more we could do! There is a large deaf community, which has requested special meetings with their own translators signing Mongolian to English and vice versa. There is a large pregnant teen population made up mostly of street children who could use a special support system. And of course, there is always fundraising.
I try to focus on all I’ve been able to accomplish in the last three years here and hope that I will be able to follow up on some other goals in the next two-and-a-half years in this lovely country. It is unique and beautiful and a joy both to live here and be an LLL Leader.
Melanie Wilson is the editor of ALL Around Asia, the Area Leaders’ Letter for Future Areas in Asia, and is also the Area Publications Administrator. She is the mother of two girls, Kalli and Mackenzie. They live in Mongolia where her husband, Paul, works for the US Peace Corps as a medical officer. She has been a Leader for four years.