|Just this year, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia became the world’s most polluted city. If you’ve ever experienced one of its winters, then you would understand why. With temperatures that plummet below -40C, burning coal and other dirty fossil fuels for warmth is the only way to stay alive. And with 45% of Mongolia’s population now flocking to the city for better opportunity, it doesn’t seem the situation will be getting any better.
But what’s more troubling than the pollution is the conditions in which many of its residents are forced to live. Hastily constructed industrial parks and overcrowded housing units have transformed much of the region’s natural beauty into an eyesore.
Beautifying the Industrial Park
It is within this context that students from The American School of Ulaanbaatarset out to make an authentic contribution. Emmanuel Smith, a 6th grade Humanities Teachers wanted his students to better understand their privilege and build empathy for the community just footsteps away from the school walls.
After taking students into the community to experience it first hand, he asked them a simple yet profound question:
How can we foster hope in the community through poetry and symbolism?
Over the next six weeks, students would answer this question by creating symbols of hope and accompanying fables/ poems or short stories to hang from steel barricades that lined its streets. The hope was that the symbols and literature would help restore a sense of pride in the local Mongolian people.
Here are some pictures to illustrate the journey students took: