Her startling blue eyes shone as a smile spread across her face. Riza couldn’t wait to tell me her story.
I was visiting SAFE, an ADRA project in Bayan Ulgii, Mongolia.
The people are primarily herders, but many of their animals have perished because of the harsh winters. They are often hungry and struggle to make ends meet.
SEAL, ADRA’s project prior to SAFE, sought to address these issues of hunger and poverty by teaching the people how to grow their own gardens. Everyone thought that ADRA was foolish, for it was known that nothing grows in Bayan Ulgii as the soil in most places is classified as very poor or even considered dead.
SEAL was widely successful, despite the doubts and the mockery. As much to their own astonishment as to their neighbours’, the project participants harvested vegetables from their plots and small greenhouses. Families were not only getting more food, but it was also more nutritious than ever before. Money which had been spent on food could now be used to relieve other financial pressures.ADRA and the project participants wanted to do more. Their goal was to do commercial-scale gardening by establishing themselves as registered cooperatives. The SAFE project was born.
I met Riza in the middle of her cooperative’s thriving plot of potatoes, cabbages, beets, turnips, carrots, and dill. The plot was ringed by greenhouses of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and lettuces.
“I’m 53 years old. I’ve been a widow for four years now. I have four children. Before the ADRA project, I used to ask for help from relatives and friends just to survive. I didn’t like to do that.
“With SEAL, I learned how to grow enough food to feed my family. That made me so happy.
“When I learned about SAFE, I wanted to join. It was very hard, discouraging work in the beginning. We had to clear the field by hand. Last year, our first year for planting, we had a major flood. We built a dam by hand, but still, we lost everything and had to start over. Thankfully, we still harvested some vegetables and made some income. This year, it’s very hot and dry. We must work hard to keep everything watered from our well.
“But it’s worth it! Now, I’m growing more food and I’m able to sell it to make my own income. I no longer need to ask for help, thanks to these two ADRA projects.
“I can say that ADRA is the only organization in this soum (town) that is working for the people. ADRA is my organization!
“I’ve been waiting for you because I want to tell you thank you. I have no other words, just thank you.”
I am humbled to be the in-person recipient of Riza’s gratitude, and eager to pass it along with her story to you. It’s because of you that Riza has a story to tell. Thank you! I have no other words, just thank you.