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It’s the beginning of the middle – The how and the why

May 13, 2011

“Not all those who wander are lost”

So, I woke up in Mongolia.  North of China, south of Siberia.  The Asian Steppe.  The middle of nowhere.  Home of the Gobi Desert, nomadic husbanders of livestock, eagle hunters, traditional dishes piled high with mutton, milk tea, Buddhism, and ever increasing encroachment of outside development, culture and norms.  How does one ever find oneself in such a place?

With the benefit of hindsight I can see that my road began many years ago in Kathmandu, Nepal while on a holiday.  It was my first extended trip in what would be considered a developing world country and while there I dropped in on a friend working for the World Food Programme.

After traveling the country solo for several weeks I returned to Kathmandu and spent several evenings discussing the work my friend was doing with the WFP late into the steamy Nepalese night.  I was only vaguely aware of it at the time, and definitely didn’t appreciate the implications it would mean for my life, but a seed was planted in the depths of my mind during these late night dialogues.

Over the ensuing several years that seed began to slowly develop and influence my thinking.  I found myself reading books by economists, aid workers and founders of NGO’s, attending fundraising events, and doing a lot of increasingly dangerous thinking.  These activities gradually led to hosting and throwing fundraisers myself, leading human rights groups in meetings with US Congressman and further travel in the developing world.  First in Eastern Europe and then in Central America.  I can see now that it was inevitable I would eventually leave my job to follow my growing idealism in pursuit of a “better world” for all.

And now, here I am.  Working as a Vittana Fellow in Ulaanbaatar with the Mongolian MFI, XacBank.  My goal is to create, and market, a student loan product that will enable those to whom a university education was previously a financial impossibility, obtain their degree.  To remove the bumps in the road and make the unattainable, attainable.

In the next nine months the hope is to reach 2500 new students and, through a combination of microfinance and education, improve their future prospects.  Education has the ability to empower, to set one free, to build, to rise to a higher plane.  One hopes that in achieving an education that one learns how to achieve.

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

The fight against poverty here in Mongolia will not be over in nine months time, and it won’t be solved solely by sending youths to university.  But one can chip away at seemingly impossible tasks and in the process hope to create something good.  While it is important to keep in mind one student is unlikely to change the course of a country, it is just as important to realize that an education can give a person the opportunity to do just that.  Personally I am looking forward to my own education here in Mongolia, and let come what may.

Mongolian hero Sakhbaatar leading the way

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One Comment
  1. Brett permalink

    Ryan, keep up the blogging! I love reading about what you’re up to. It may be a challenge to find the time to post things of interest, but know you do have an audience.

    Cheers!

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