“I had always dreamed of building a library,” Otgonbayar Orchirbat said.
Orchirbat, known among his friends as Oodoo, is a third-year, international student at the University of Utah, and one of the two minds behind the Books for Mongolia project that has seen more than 1,000 books sent to educational institutions across Mongolia.
Oodoo along with Chimedyudon Tsoldelger, known as Yudko, helped to pioneer the new student-led initiative in part because they were grateful for the opportunity that had been provided them by studying here at the University of Utah.
“We came to the University of Utah two years ago, which was really nice, because this is a much better university, providing better education with a lot of opportunities for students. With all of that, I thought about using the resources here to do something good for the students back in Mongolia and that’s pretty much how it all started,” Oodoo said. “I’ve heard a lot of Americans complain about their education system, but it’s actually not that bad. For example, when we come from other countries, there are so many opportunities. I’m an international student here in the U.S., yet I enrolled in a study abroad program here in the U.S. to study in Ecuador. So I was an international student within an international program. So there are just so many opportunities that we never had before, so it just seems like you should make the most of them.”
To date, the project has shipped more than 1,400 books to Mongolia, with an additional 800 collected and in the process of being organized. Around 500 of the books were donated to local libraries in the more remote areas of Mongolia that have very little access to English books, with the remainder being distributed in Ulaanbaatar, the capitol city where the majority of Mongolia’s population exists.
“Our main resource for collecting books was the Marriot Library,” Oodoo said. “They organize a book sale every spring and fall, and at the end of every sale, they have a day where pretty much everything that is left can be taken for free. We also talked to a number of departments and individual professors, and found many eager to help us by providing great math textbooks including calculus and algebra books.”
The significance of advanced mathematics textbooks might be lost on many here in the U.S. where such books can easily be found at any high school or local library. In Mongolia, however, these types of textbooks are like scholastic gold.
“Most of us [Mongolian students] study mining, geology, and metallurgy, so I was able to talk to the professors within our department who were happy to help by providing some much more rare books on the subject,” Yudko said. “We know just how hard it is to find good books within our major, because Oodoo and I used to study at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology, and we had very few good quality books in English. That’s why we wanted to find as many rare English books as we could to send back to the university in Mongolia.”
Much of the difficulty with organizing the project had to do with not only allocating quality books at a price university students could actually afford, but also just going through them. The process of sorting, categorizing, and preparing loads of books for international shipping is no small feat, and according to Oodoo, would have been all but impossible without the aid of fellow students involved with the Mongolian Student Association.
“There are only about 14 Mongolian students here at the University of Utah,” Yudko said. “We all volunteer as members of the Mongolian Student Union, so we’ve all tried to help in developing this project during our free time.”
Time, however was not the only resource difficult to come by for the project.
“It was especially hard with shipping costs,” Oodoo said. “Books are really heavy, so to ship 1,000 books costs about $5,000, but we were lucky enough to find one Mongolian owned shipping business who agreed to ship the books for free because it was a volunteer-based charity project.”
The shipping company known as the Koko Group, provided free shipping for the Mongolian book project from Los Angeles, California to the Mongolian capitol of Ulaanbaatar. Once the books were in Mongolia Oodoo and Yudko were able to partner with a Mongolian company called Us-Erdene Lic in order to get the books shipped to Mongolian Universities and libraries across the country.
Unlike most of the Mongolian students at the University of Utah, Oodoo did not grow up in Mongolia’s capitol, Ulaanbaatar, but rather in a small town in the countryside. Having seen the significantly fewer opportunities for learning there were in towns like his, especially in regards to English books, was one of the key inspirations for the project.
“Even just the opportunity to study English is really important,” Oodoo said. “Studying English isn’t a requirement for all [Mongolian] students, but it’s important for many, and if any student wants to study English there should be books available that they can easily pick up and learn. They may not have to, but they should at least have the chance to learn and develop themselves.”
For both Oodoo and Yudko, the hope is not only that the Books for Mongolia project will continue to thrive, but that additional projects might grow out of it not only through the hard work of the Mongolian Student Union, but through the inspiration they hope the project provides as well.
“This is only our first project, and it’s helped us gain experience. In the future, there will be more Mongolian students here and we want to show them that it is possible to create a project and actually make it happen. From there it is up to them. There are dozens of ideas and projects they can do for others, so this is just the beginning,” Yudko said. “In giving these books, we’re not just giving them to one person. They’re being shipped to libraries where many people will be able to use and learn from them. This will allow people to be educated and to have a goal for their future, one they can go after.”
For more information about the Scholar Rescue Program at the University of Utah: