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Catherine Orr - Medicine in Mongolia

Medical volunteers and team

During the summer I took a placement on the 2 Week Special Medical project in Mongolia. During my stay there I visited the Shastin Central Hospital in the capital, Ulaanbataar to watch surgeries including a cataract removal and major heart surgery. I also tried some traditional Mongolian medicine, like an interesting concoction of egg whites, raisins and honey supposed to help respiration. We also saw acupuncture and tried some Mongolian 'cupping' a technique which apparently Victoria Beckham tries to remove tension in the neck, it looked painful!

The city was huge! So much bigger than I was expecting and the driving was something which has to be seen to be believed, they didn't seem to understand the concept of a red traffic light. Regardless of the language barrier everyone was always friendly and willing to attempt to help. I loved all of the Projects Abroad staff at the office, they were always approachable with any problems or queries I had and were more than happy to organise events to do in the evening.

Me and children

The traditional Mongolian concert was amazing, we also saw contortionists and the outfits were wonderful. I enjoyed the museums we went to visit, especially the toy museum which had lots of puzzles to play with and we were able to speak with the owner of the museum and creator of a lot of the toys, through the help of a translator. I also enjoyed visiting a Korean spa for a relaxing pampering session. We also climbed up to the Russian war memorial, the whole 600 steps! The climb was definitely worth the view from the top; I was able to see the whole of the city from one side and a mountainous landscape from the other.

One of our weekend visits was a trip to a National Park, the roads on the drive out were incredibly bumpy but that added to the fun. We walked round a pile of stones three times at the side of the road on the way there and back to give us luck for the journey and after experiencing some of the taxi drivers driving, I am glad we did. Upon arrival we climbed “turtle rock” there was an amazing view from the top of the vast Mongolian countryside. After that we had a horseback ride, the horses were tiny but amazingly strong; we rode to a temple on a hill, the structure was beautifully intricate. We also were able to visit a ger in the most beautiful location, just beside a river and go for a swim. The owners welcomed us into their home and offered us bread, yoghurt and horse milk vodka; it is definitely an acquired taste!


I learnt some very interesting superstitious beliefs, for example, if you trip on a door you have to walk back through it, I also discovered it is rude to refuse food or drink when offered. On the topic of food, I experienced some very strange dishes, Mongolians love mutton! I wanted to try everything on offer when I was there because it was all so new to me. Dumplings were also popular, but I personally wasn't a fan; most of the food was delicious but the portion sizes were massive and difficult to finish, I don't think I have ever had such good value for money on food.

I was lucky enough to visit during the Football World Cup and although Mongolia weren't in it, one of the bigger pubs had a massive projector screen to show every match. The volunteers from all over the world gathered at all times in the morning to watch the match due to the time difference, the atmosphere was amazing and it was lovely to meet volunteers doing different projects and hear about their experiences. I made some great friends and have been able to see some of them since returning home.

Visiting the hospitals was a real eye opener, I was pleasantly surprised at how advanced the medicine was but also at how they stuck to their traditions as well as adapting to modern medicine. It was fun to try some of the equipment on the other volunteers and to see the difference between western healthcare and theirs. Traditional ger The highlight of my trip was going to visit an orphanage where we taught the children how to brush their teeth properly and then spent the afternoon playing with them and just spending time outside in the sunshine. They didn't have much but the little they did have was appreciated by them. I was extremely happy to feel as though I had impacted on their life in even a small way like teaching them basic oral hygiene.

Overall I loved my visit and would consider doing another placement with Projects Abroad. I also hope to return to Mongolia one day and spend some more time out in the Gobi desert, as unfortunately I didn't have time to fit that in to my visit. It is a beautiful country from what I have seen and the people are friendly and it was definitely an experience I would like to re-live. I still keep in tough with the friends I made and maybe some day we will have a re-union and all meet again in Mongolia.

Catherine Orr

This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Programme Advisors.

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