Swiss project targets needy Mongolian children

Most of Mongolia's children have an impoverished existence. EPA PHOTO/EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Two Swiss women are on a mission to provide food and sustenance to hundreds of street children in Mongolia.

This content was published on November 1, 2003 - 06:59

Christine Jäggi and Martina Zürcher are hoping to start their ambitious soup kitchen project before the onset of the icy winter, when temperatures plummet to minus 40 degrees.

The two women both fell in love with the vast Asian nation during their travels over the summer, but they were appalled by the squalor and alcoholism they encountered in the capital, Ulan Bator.

“It’s a big shock to see thousands of kids in the streets looking ill and dirty, with no home to go to,” Zürcher told swissinfo.

“They often choose to leave home at a young age because they are abused or because their families have been torn apart by alcoholism,” Jäggi adds.

Authorities in Mongolia say alcoholism is reaching epidemic proportions, driven by cheap spirits and a ruined economy.

“The problem is that when these children hang out in the streets, they are themselves at risk of turning to drink,” Jäggi adds. “So, apart from feeding them, we also have to convince them to get back to school.”

Square meal

During their visit to the country, Jäggi and Zürcher made contact with two Mongolians who were also keen to lend street children a helping hand.

Their two coordinators are now busy trying to find a location in the capital to set up the soup kitchen.

“Initially we plan to hand out food on a first-come, first-served basis. But we’ll have to make sure that police officers keep on eye on the kids to make sure that fights don’t break out to get into the soup kitchen,” Jäggi explains.

The pair, who both work for a local Swiss radio station, say they plan to keep going back to Mongolia to oversee the project’s development – and to make sure money doesn’t get into the wrong hands.

In the long term, they also want to employ extra staff to train some of the children to cook – and to motivate them to go to school.

“You often see street children doing odd jobs like washing cars to earn a bit of cash, and learning to cook might be a good option to give them a bit of a future,” Zürcher says.

“But ultimately, we need to convince them that the only way forward is to get an education, and we need to find people who can help them get back on the right track.”

Race against time

Earlier this year, the two women set up a foundation to start raising funds for the soup kitchen. But it’s now a race against time to get some of the money over to Ulan Bator before the harsh winter months, which claim thousands of lives.

“Many of the children die in the cold, and there’s no medical help if they get ill, so we have to start as soon as possible,” Jäggi says.

“It gets so cold that some of the kids even go into the sewers to keep warm.”

But since neither of them have any experience in running charitable projects, they admit they have a lot of learning to do.

“We’ll need to talk to other people who have set up similar projects and we are looking for help from Swiss organisations,” Jäggi says. “But we are determined to give something back to this wonderful country.”

To find out more about their Mongolian project, you can contact Christine Jäggi and Martina Zürcher at

swissinfo, Vanessa Mock

Key facts

Mongolia occupies 1.5 million sq kms in northern Asia, between China and Russia, with a population of 2.7 million people.
It abandoned its Soviet-style, one-party state in favour of political and economic reforms in 1990.
A third of the population lives in Ulan Bator while half the people herd livestock in the countryside.

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