CONTACT: Tania Vitvitsky, Sabre Foundation (617) 868-3510
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Mongolia -- home of the Gobi Desert, land of snow-mountain peaks, vast deserts, high winds, both freezing cold and searing hot temperatures -- home also of an ancient people, descendents of the famed Genghis Khan, who between himself and his grandson, Kublai Khan, managed to build the biggest land empire in the history of the world. Many modern-day Mongolians still live in the same large, round, flat tents made of felt, called ger, which their ancestors used, and raise livestock.
The Mongol Empire declined in the 13th century when it became too unwieldy administratively. Today Mongolia is a developing country, doing its best to care for a sparse population of 2.4 million people scattered across a vast land of 1,566,500 square kilometers sandwiched between the two powers of China and Russia.
Mongolia's outstanding literacy rate of 97% attests to its commitment to education. So does the fact that it finds creative ways to keep up that commitment. Last year the Mongolian Universities Consortium (MUC), a group of 15 public and private institutions, set up a partnership with the Sabre Foundation of Cambridge, Mass, to organize a shipment of 19,978 new donated books to be distributed at all educational levels. In May, Sabre Project Director Tania Vitvitsky made a week-long tour of Mongolia to assess the Sabre project's success, and received a warm welcome she will not soon forget -- from the Consortium partners, to children at the Oin Bulag Kindergarten and Secondary School, to a meeting with His Excellency Mr. N. Bagabandi, President of Mongolia.
"Everyone is learning English," says Ms. Vitvitsky. "From the kindergarten children to the Police Academy director. Mongolia was under incredible isolation as a satellite of the Soviet Union. English is so important now particularly because Mongolians realize that information networks and Internet-related technologies play an ever-increasing role in the transition of emerging democracies."
The Universities Consortium, under the directorship of Dr. D. Badarch, has done an exceptional job distributing the nearly 20,000 books, collaborating with the Peace Corps and others to get the books to 54 private and public universities and colleges, 72 secondary schools, 20 kindergartens, and another two dozen educational institutions. Parliamentarian Mrs. H. Hulan provided logistical help in getting the books to dozens of schools in the rural areas. Even President Bagabandi and the First Lady carried books on their travels to the outlying regions.
Mrs. Bagabandi is not the only First Lady to lend her support to this project: the impetus for the program actually came from Hillary Rodham Clinton who, at a White House event launching earlier Sabre book programs for Bosnia and Romania, suggested that Sabre begin a project in Mongolia. With the help of many hands, Mrs. Clinton's idea has borne full fruit.
Soon after the arrival of the book shipment in October of last year, a two-day, 5,000-book exhibition was set up at the Mongolian Technical University in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. The Minister of Education, members of parliament and presidents of the Consortium's institutions all participated. The event was attended by 4,200 people who showed particular interest in the World Book Encyclopedia and World Book's Young Scientist Encyclopedia. Ms. Vitvitsky says that children at the preschools she visited love the McGraw-Hill flip chart "Big Books." Among both scholars and students, science and technical books are very sought after. "The wide range of books really seems appreciated," says Vitvitsky.
Mongolia has opened up for tourism, trade, and industry. While Ms. Vitvitsky was on her tour, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also paid a visit to Mongolia and was captured on the front page of the country's leading English-language weekly enjoying a tame encounter with one of Mongolia's famed wild horses under the headline, "Everything's Alright, says Albright."
The Mongolian book donation program was made possible by a grant from the International Research And Exchange Board (IREX) with matching funds from the United States Information Agency. Ocean freight shipping costs were covered by a grant from U.S. Agency for International Development's Ocean Freight Reimbursement Program.
Sabre Foundation has sent over three million books to people in need in over 50 countries around the world. While working primarily in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, recent Sabre initiatives include programs for South Africa, Brazil, Grenada, Cuba, and Tibetan refugee schools in India.