July 31, 2015

Quote of the week July 27- August 2

“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
- Screwtape 
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

July 23, 2015

Healthy Hoops 2015: A Narrative Report


“Healthy Hoops” aims to bring skilled youth development professionals and athletes together in an effort to improve the overall quality of life of Mongolian youth ages 13-16.  Youth participants are actively engaged in various life skills and Basketball development activities, that subsequently promote learning and facilitate long-term behavioral change.


  • To focus on positive, aspirational communications that appeal to higher-level human needs and desires.
  • To harness the passion for sports and the role model status of  Mongolian National Basketball Association representatives, Peace Corps Volunteers, and other influential community leaders.
  • To Provide Mongolian youth with an environment that fosters positive communication and encourages healthy behavioral change.

Healthy Hoops: Basketball Skills Camp June 13-14 Gobi-Altai Sports Complex

Basketball Skills Camp Vision
Mongolian Basketball Association representatives in partnership with Peace Corps Mongolia volunteers and the Gobi-Altai Sports Complex, will teach and develop the fundamental basketball skills which will enable Mongolian youth to increase their understanding of the game. Participants will develop their attitude’s and philosophy about basketball in an environment which encourages good sportsmanship, fair play, and  healthy competition, allowing each player to apply the necessary skills and techniques as they are learned.

Basketball Skills Camp Goals

  • Goal 1: To improve shooting skills amongst participants, ll campers will participate in a shooting clinic. Camp counselors will work one-on-one with participants to help develop and refine their shooting form and technique.
  • Goal 2: To improve ball handling, a clinic will be developed that focuses primarily on ball handling technique. Participants will work on ball handling while incorporating the triple threat position.
  • Goal 3: To improve passing skills, a clinic will be developed that focuses primarily on passing form and technique. Participants will also learn pivoting.

The first annual “Healthy Hoops” Youth Basketball and Life Skills Development Camp, organized by Peace Corps Mongolia Volunteer Eva Riddick, took  place from June 13th-16th, 2015 in Altai, Gobi-Altai, Mongolia. Healthy Hoops was the first camp of its kind that was successfully implemented in Gobi-Altai, and was made possible through a generous grant from the United States Embassy to Mongolia. Additional sponsors included the Gobi-Altai World Vision Project Office, Mongolian Basketball Association, Gobi-Altai Children and Families Development Department, and the Gobi-Altai Sports Department.

Over the course of 2 days, 48 youth (24 boys and 24 girls) ranging in age from 13-16 participated in the Basketball Skills Development portion of the  camp, which was held at the Gobi-Altai Sports Complex. The camp instructors included the Head Coach of the Mongolian Women’s National team and MBA technical committee director, Manduul Baasansuren, National women’s team player, Solongo Baysgalan, and Peace Corps Volunteers Eva Riddick (Gobi-Altai) and Joel Bosque (Zaivkhan).

On Saturday June 13th, at 8:30 am, 48 youth participants arrived to the Gobi-Altai Sports complex for camp registration. Shortly after arrival participants checked-in, received a basketball, jersey and short set, water bottle and sports bag. Of the original 50 youth who were carefully selected through a survey, 2 were unable to attend for personal reasons. Registration was immediately followed by staff introductions, camp rules and opening remarks from the Gobi-Altai Children and Families Development Department Director, M. Erdenbileg, MBA representative Manduul Baasansuren, and Peace Corps Volunteer Eva Riddick.

The basketball drills and activities commenced shortly after the opening ceremony, with a warm-up and stretching led by Coach Baasansuren. Participants were divided into gender groups, the boys were told to stand on one baseline and the girls were instructed to stand on the opposite baseline. One by one campers had to introduce themselves by shouting their name across the gym loud enough for others to hear. At the conclusion of camper introductions, Coach Baasansuren led the campers in  various fundamental basketball drills which focused on the following: “triple threat position,” ball handling, passing, pivoting, layups and shooting technique. In addition to a healthy snack break, campers were given periodic water breaks throughout the duration of the camp and were responsible for their bringing their own lunches. The first day concluded with a 3-on-3 tournament.

The following day campers reported to the sports complex at 8:30 am. After attendance, announcements, warm-up and stretching, participants took part in an exciting ice-breaker game of “Atom molecule.” Participants were given 15 mins to free shoot prior to the start of the fundamentals basketball lesson. The proceeding hour was a review of the previous day’s layups and shooting session, followed by a water and healthy snack break. Prior to lunch fundamentals of passing and pivoting were reviewed for a duration of 30 mins. The day concluded with an competitive 5-on-5 tournament, award ceremony, and closing remarks from MBA representative Manduul. Furthermore, many of the youth took this time to express their gratitude for being invited.

Manduul and Solongo departed for UB by air on Monday June 15th, on an Aero Mongolia flight. Due to their invaluable contribution, the camper’s spirits were high in anticipation for the life-skills camp at Guulin soum Children’s camp.

Healthy Hoops: Life-Skills Camp June 15-17 Guulin Soum Children’s Camp

On the morning of June 15th at 8:30 am, 46 campers arrived to the Gobi-Altai Children’s Department, and shortly thereafter departed for Guulin Soum Children’s Camp (situated approximately 130 kilometers from the provincial capital). Participants were chaperoned by one camp counselor and Peace Corps Volunteers Eva Riddick and Joel Bosque. Upon arriving to the camp, participants were greeted my a welcome committee of camp counselors who ushered them to the camp’s central meeting place. There the campers were entertained with ice breaker games and choreographed dances perform by the counselors. The campers were divided into groups, given camp rules, and checked-in to their respective living quarters.

On June 15th, the official opening of the Guulin soum Children’s camp coincided with the life-skills portion of Healthy Hoops.   The provincial governor along with other prominent local figures received a tour of the camp and attended the ribbon cutting ceremony. At the conclusion of the opening day ceremony, all campers and counselors ate lunch. Following lunch, campers partook in various games and team building activities organized by the camp counselors.

For the remainder of the afternoon from 4pm until 6pm, campers participated in a gender-based health life skills session focusing on hygiene and nutrition. After the health sessions, campers were divided into to two groups for the self-esteem and leadership sessions—each session lasting an hour in duration. After the life-skills sessions, campers ate dinner and had some down time before evening activities.

The evening activities included a welcome party organized by the camp counselors, which included dancing, games and team building activities. All evening activities wrapped up at 21:00, and the campers were sent to bed to rest from all the days activities.

Early next morning, the campers awoke to the sounds of  Shakira’s “Waka Waka” blasting from the camp speakers. The campers one by one began making their way to the camp courtyard for morning exercise. Following morning exercise participants ate breakfast, and were separated into two training groups for the mornings life-skills trainings. The training topics included sexual reproductive health: prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and stress management. Between afternoon snack and lunch, the youth were divided into 3 groups, during this hour block each group rotated between the following sessions in 20 minute increments: sexual reproductive health: adolescents physical development and their psychological changes, stress management, self esteem and communication.

After lunch, counselors took the campers on a 2 hour hike around the campgrounds. Additional afternoon activities included an obstacle course challenge, playing basketball and bike riding. The final two life-skills sessions were held 2 hours prior to dinner, and covered topics such as nutrition and sexual reproductive health:menstruation hygiene for female campers.
After dinner there was a closing party to commemorate the participant’s fun-filled time at the camp. The following morning the campers participated in their final morning exercise session followed by breakfast, checking out of their rooms, leisure time and snacks before departing for Altai. Upon arriving back to Gobi-Altai Children’s Department, the campers bid farewell to all their new friends before returning home excited to share their experiences and lessons with their families and friends.

Healthy Hoops 2015 was a success and wouldn’t have been made possible without the full support of the United States Embassy to Mongolia, World Vision, Mongolian Basketball Association, Gobi-Altai Children and Families Development Department and the Gobi-Altai Sports Department. Thank you!

2015 Spring Summer Update

Once again I return after a brief hiatus from my blog. Please be assured that I have been busy with my fair share of projects, camps, traveling and various other duties, nevertheless, it is always a pleasure to share my journey with you all.

This past spring, the third semester of the Gobi-Altai Happy Center for disabled children and friends commenced. We were fortunate to have received a generous donation from both World Vision International and the US Embassy to Mongolia, of which we are tremendously grateful. Last spring also saw the arrival of our country director to Gobi-Altai, a visit from the US Embassy's office of public affairs and a celebration of international women's day and soldier's day. Before leaving to UB for our bi-annual volunteer advisory council meeting, I taught an annual black history month lesson at community English club. Our students were just as excited to participate as I was to teach about African-American history and culture. I spent most of April and May preparing for Healthy Hoops, a youth leadership, life-skills and basketball development camp funded by the US Department of State.
Black History Month Lesson

Showing a video about American diversity
Fast-forward to June and Healthy Hoops 2015 was a success! After the camp I traveled back to Ulaanbaatar to volunteer at the Lotus Orphanage and Rose Home for children with special needs. The Lotus Children's Center serves as an orphanage and school for nearly a hundred children between the ages of 12-18, many found abandoned on the streets of UB. The lotus Center is an orphanage home, but more importantly it is a developmental center for abandoned and vulnerable children. In addition to its duties as an official Mongolian NGO caring for vulnerable and abused children it also takes part in community outreach projects. Over the course of 2 days, I worked closely with the orphanage's social worker, facilitating communication and planning life-skills for adolescent youth. The Lotus Center has a very special place in my heart and I plan on visiting once more before I move back to the States.

Which leads me to my next topic, I'll be leaving Mongolia in less than a month. Three years have flown by and my experience serving with the Peace Corps has been one of the most formative opportunities to date. I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead and thank God for blessing me with such a unique and amazing journey. I'll have another post about leaving Mongolia soon. Until then, please enjoy a few pictures from this past spring and summer.
Teaching about famous Black inventors
Teaching about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

Leading a group discussion about the Civil Rights Movement with site-mate Jerome

Celebrating Solider's Day with my counterparts at the Children's Department

Meeting with the Executive Director of Special Olympics Mongolia to discuss the current state of disability rights in Mongolia.

Hanging out with friends Kathy and Julia.

4th of July celebration in UB

4th of July hangout with friends at Khan Deli.

The Lotus Center

The Lotus Center

The Lotus Center

The Lotus Center

The Lotus Center

Donating a full set of Peace Corps Life-Skills books.

Teaching my counterparts how to make pizza, carrot and chocolate cake.

Country director's visit to Gobi-Altai

From Left to Right: Me, site-mate John Boeve, site-mate Lauren Javins, Country Director Darlene Grant, site-mate Kiowa Pratt-Gordon, Kiowa's counterpart Gantuya and site-mate Jerome Leonard.

Celebrating the birthday of my friends son.

Saying goodbye to site-mates Jerome and Max as they depart for America.

Graduation at the medical college

Friends Vivian, Sondra and Byron.

My counterparts and I competed in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament sponsored by World Vision.

Celebrating a traditional Mongolian hair cutting ceremony.