World Challenge, Mongolia

The spectacular mountains, plains and lakes of Mongolia – one of the last unspoilt destinations in Asia – provided the backdrop for 14 Lower Sixth girls on their World Challenge Expedition during the summer break. The three-and-a-half week adventure, led by Geography teacher Miss Kaeren Browning and Rob Hardy, World Challenge training leader, was 18 months in the planning as the girls raised individual funds. The group’s collective efforts realised another £8,000, which was spent on the expedition’s major social project, the Christina Noble Foundation Orphanage.

Mongolina Expedition

The money also helped pay to build homes for two disadvantaged nomadic families who were very emotional when they saw their new dwellings.

The group spent eight days camping and horse trekking around the Great White Lake before returning to the Chinese capital Beijing for four days’ relaxation, which included visits to Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall.

Great Wall

“The challenge for the girls was to make decisions about areas including transport and organising accommodation – in short, to take ownership of the trip,” said Miss Browning, “and they rose to it extremely well.”

The Project Phase of the Trip – By Lily Vickers

Arriving at the airport, both the parents and girls' emotions were running high. We were departing Manchester Airport for London Heathrow, and then onto Beijing, and would not be back in the country for just under a month. We were feeling apprehensive, yet excited, about our once in a lifetime experience, and although we were sad to say goodbye to our families, we knew that we would come back having experienced things not many people are likely to experience in their lives.

Mongolia Expedition

Having met Harriet in London Heathrow and eventually arriving in Beijing after dramas such as Holly fainting as she came off the Heathrow plane, we then had a 3 hour slog through temperature control checks, where Sarah was taken aside and checked more thoroughly. Luckily, everything was okay and we were able to continue on to baggage claim and ultimately our hostel for a very short sleep.

The next morning, we rose at 3.15 feeling slightly disorientated and headed to the airport for our final destination- MONGOLIA. In true Withington Style, as soon as we were at the airport the search began for the food- and where else would we eat our breakfast, but Pizza Hut?!

Upon arrival in Mongolia we piled into four taxis and diced with death as our drivers dodged sheep and horses lining the Ulaan Batar roads. The first day in UB consisted of buying a Mongolian sim card, walking to the British embassy to drop off our visa photocopies and buying food from the supermarket for our dinner and breakfast. Later that evening we met Sylvia, our in country agent who briefed us on everything we would be doing in Mongolia. Sylvia also brought Dulguun for us to meet, who would be our translator for whilst we were in Mongolia.

Two days later, after we had bought some things for our trekking phase, we set off for the Christina Noble children's Foundation, about 40 minutes drive from our hostel. The journey was very quiet, as none of us knew what to expect, and when we turned off the main road and starting driving down a tiny dirt track we all became quite nervous. We arrived at the Ger Village and the gates opened. We were amazed at the beauty of the community within the walls. Everywhere was so colourful and the children were in the playground, laughing and smiling. We couldn't wait to get involved. In fact I think most of us just wanted to play on the swings!

Before we could do anything, we had to unload the coach, and move in to our new home. Our Ger was beautifully decorated with pictures of the children hung all around, and a big stove in the middle for when cooking is needed to be done in there. Luckily we were being fed while we were there, so we didn't have to worry about using it. We were given a tour of the village and shown where everything was and how everything worked, and then we were taken back to our ‘home' and told a little about the charity. Eammon told us about the background of a few of the children who were there, and the tears started trickling down our faces. Some of the stories were heartbreaking and made us want to look after the children permanently.

We were then allowed to go out and play! We all rushed out and found someone to join in with, and if no one wanted to play, we played as a group, and they children soon joined in. Later that night we had meetings about what activities we were going to do with them. We split into groups and discussed in detail who were going to organise what activity.

The next day was the day of the English lesson for the children. The session started off by very simply rolling the ball across the circle saying ‘my name is…', but we soon turned it in to a loud rendition of ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes'! After lunch we decided that the ‘Arts and Crafts' session needed to be planned better, so we had another meeting and drew lots of templates for the children to use when the time came. The session ran smoothly and the children seemed to enjoy making Spiderman masks and butterfly masks, bracelets and spirals. The only thing was, they didn't want to clean up the mess they left at the end! The other activity we tried with the children was a sports day, however, due to the language barrier, this quickly turned into a simple game of duck-duck-goose! While we were at the Ger Village we also touched up the paintwork in the playground. This took quite a while as we had to keep distracting the children who kept wanting to play! We also painted two designs on blank walls. One design read ‘Reach for the stars' and was decorated with stars and the moon, and the other, ‘You are my sunshine' inside a big sun, with our names as the rays.

The Ger Village was not the only project we did. We decided as a group to raise enough money to donate two nomadic homes to homeless families while we were out in Mongolia. On the day we left the Ger Village, we were very emotional. Some of us had grown very attached to the child they had been looking after and did not want to say goodbye. Despite being upset about having to leave the village, we had other places to go, and so we set off, teary eyed, to donate a Ger to one family. As the van had turned up late, we decided as a team that we could only afford the time to go to see one family, and would have to apologise to the organisation for not being able to meet the other family who would be receiving a Ger. The process was amazing. In twenty minutes a whole home had been constructed and the family had signed the papers and moved in. Once the family had decided Tara was moving in with them, we had to leave as we had other things to do that day, such as buy supplies for our trek. However, the project phase was incredibly moving for all of us, and I know that a couple are considering a return to the Ger Village in a possible gap year…

The Trek Phase of the Trip – By Kim Meadowcroft

The second phase of our trip began with 3 days travelling in Russian forgons to the Great White Lake – the deepest lake in Asia. Travelling over rough terrain it was an eventful and bumpy ride to say the least! However we eventually arrived safely at Khishig's Horse Camp to a friendly welcome from our wranglers and horses and armed with padded cycling shorts, headtorches, and an unhealthy amount of noodles and cured meat. The next 5 days we spent trekking on horse-back and camping underneath the stars in the vast Mongolia countryside. At this point in the trip we were able to experience true Mongolia culture – especially at one camp where we were treated to a traditional Mongolian meal. Although after the trek phase we were all glad of a hot shower and a meal that didn't consist solely of noodles and vegetables, it was truly the experience of a lifetime.

The Rest and Relaxation Phase – By Jess Greenhalgh

The third and final phase of our World Challenge experience was 'Rest and Relaxation', which following a 5 day horse trek in the countryside was completely necessary.

 Although we had officially planned to spend this time in Beijing, we arranged for extra time to be spent in the heart of Ulaan Batar in Mongolia to enjoy the culture before we left. We were able to spend two nights in the capital and enjoyed shopping in the day and traditional Mongolian entertainment at night, which involved throat singers and incredible costumes. Now we could finally use the money we had been saving for R&R and enjoyed bigger and better meals all round. One night we ate in the famous "Marco Polo" restaurant, as quoted by our invaluable Lonely Planets to be the "best Italian Mongolia has to offer".

After a sad farewell to Mongolia, the country that had been our comfortable home for just under a month we departed for Beijing where we would spend two fully packed days of tourism. Our bitter sweet goodbye to the limitedly developed Mongolia as we left Ulaan Batar airport was almost immediately followed by the greeting of one of the most thriving and developed cities in the world. The contrast between Beijing and Ulaan Batar cannot be exaggerated. We met sky scrapers that filled the buzzing centre of the city and arrived once again to the youth hostel we had briefly seen during our flight out to Mongolia.

We arrived at Beijing Youth Hostel welcoming such things as the internet and people who both spoke and understood English. Day One in Beijing became affectionately known as 'Holly's Beijing Day of Fun', as leader Holly had arranged for us to visit the famous Tiananmen Square in the morning, followed by the Forbidden City which is located right next to it. After an early start and truly legendary European breakfast we set off, on foot, for Tiananmen Square. Now, Chinese is a difficult language, not only to understand when spoken to you, but obviously to read. We had been given specific instructions by our hostel but we automatically took a wrong turn, resulting in a two hour detour around what can only be described as the other half of the centre of Beijing. We arrived at the square considerably behind schedule and used the rest of our allocated time walking around the amazing buildings and tourist shops. Our afternoon was spent at the also famous Silk Markets where we bartered for traditional tea sets and fans. That night we went to an amazing Chinese acrobatic show after dinner which was breathtaking, we had perfect seats and it was an experience we will never forget.

The next day we embarked on our trip to the unique Great Wall of China. We spent the whole day at the Wall, taking in the amazing sights from such a great height. It was a real relief to be out of the city and up high where the air was fresher and the weather was perfect. For our team member Jati, this was her 17th birthday and that night, for our last meal we went to the most popular night spot in Beijing located around a lake. The meal was the perfect end to a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we will treasure forever and as we arrived back at the hostel we were met with another bitter sweet feeling of finally being reunited with family at home but separating from the 13 friends who had become family.