Finding disabled people and their families who wanted to tell their stories was not difficult. I was keen to tell their stories honestly and to the best of my ability. Amazingly, they trusted me and allowed me into their lives. Usually it was extended family members or someone in the community who put me in contact initially but only when I had earned their trust. I was fortunate to have talented and able translators and fixers who understood my project and became enthusiastic about putting it into practice.
Nomadic culture permeates Mongolia and I was constantly astonished at peoples’ willingness to welcome a stranger at their door bearing only a token gift. Every time I knocked on a door with some tea or a scarf I was invited in for a cup of tea and a snack and a willingness to listen to my needs.
The country is large and poor and consequently the hospitals, schools and welfare system are not of a high standard. The infrastructure mostly limited or absent. In western Mongolia, where the towns and villages are more remote, facilities become severely limited and in some places non-existent. The Government is endeavouring to improve the situation but life will remain hard for people with disabilities in remotes areas for many years to come. It was painful for me to meet individuals whose needs were not met because drugs or medical procedures were not in place and I was aware that probably they would not live long.
Over the years I did witness abuse of people with a disability in Mongolia but not on the institutional and industrial scale as is apparent in the west. I put this down to differences in culture. The nomadic culture, in which any stranger who appears at the door of a Ger or mud-bricked home is welcomed, where food is shared and help is provided if necessary, is a hospitality-based culture. You help others in need in the countryside and remote places since you may need their help in the future. Family and community are central to their way of life. People with disabilities often stay within the family and are supported within and by the community. Being loved, understood and sustained by family and community, is another way of saying ‘You are much more than your disability’.