The city of Darkhan is 128 miles from Ulaanbaatar. A visit to Darkhan State College had been on mind since meeting Mr Jargal Nurzed, its new director, last December.
As I approached the UB parking lot associated with 'taxis' to Darkhan I was manhandled by several prospective 'drivers' in various directions into a ten year old Hyundai sedan, and then reassured that we would be leaving soon. Only after sufficient passengers filled the vehicle did the actual driver become apparent, and we set off in dusk for the three hour journey, regularly and perilously overtaking lorries and having headlights flashed at us. There was one brief stop for water and WC half way. We were relieved to finally arrive and to be met by Aimee, a Darkhan based VSO teacher trainer.
After a night staying in an absent VSO volunteer's centrally located flat, I crossed the road to the Post Office, where after telephoning a few times, I was met by a teacher from Darkhan Orgoo, the State Technical College in a taxi. I was ushered to the directors office and given a welcome speech. The school's student population of 1130 is largely comprised of orphaned and vulnerable children and youth. I presented the VSO volunteer request form and explained to Mr Nurzed the nature of VSO Mongolia's work for sustainable livelihoods, rather than providing 'aid' or charity. I noted that volunteers try to work alongside teachers rather than replacing them, and that this can be all the more challenging.
Tungaa, a languages teacher, toured me around the mid-century school building, whose facilities, class rooms and workshops were relatively well maintained. Competitions are held for decorating rooms and halls. I was treated to a lunch of buuz in the training canteen, before a farewell speech and return to meet other visiting VSOs in the city centre.
In the afternoon, I visited a German Development Service (DED) volunteer Angelika Krambeer at the Technical and Vocational Training Centre, and the newly established Autodesk-funded AutoCAD training suite. I was impressed to see a well equipped European-style lab (with legitimate software) and met some of the drafting trainees and looked at their drawing work. Finally I was kindly taken for an inspection of the near complete building site of a new SOS Children's Village by the German site architect Matthias Daxl.
Returning in 'lux-coupe' class on an overnight train (for the same price as the taxi) was a delight.