Week 38: Climbing for Kids & The Lotus Children’s Centre

One of the biggest reasons I travel is because of its ability to force change. It pushes me to discover things about the world, and ultimately myself, that were previously hidden. But there have been few experiences in my life that have changed me, and for the better, more than my time spent with the kids at The Lotus Children’s Centre.

Over the summer I had the privilege of becoming a volunteer at The Lotus Children’s Centre outside Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The centre serves as an orphanage and school for nearly a hundred abandoned an abused children. Many of these young souls are found abandoned on the streets of Ulaanbaatar, a city that sees some of the harshest winters on the face of the planet.

During my summer at Lotus, I was in charge of taking the kids on short camping trips. The children are separated into six different houses, which they have proudly self named. First, the youngest (and ridiculously adorable) house, “Baby House.” Here there are nearly 20 young children, the oldest around 7 years of age. Next there is “Lady House”- where some of the slightly older girls live. “Glamour House”, a tight group of teenage girls, which was the first group I took camping. “Dream House”, a mix of preteen boys and girls. “Sponge Bob House”, a group of teenage girls and younger boys. And finally, “Boys House”, where the older boys live. I managed to take all the houses on separate camping trips into the breathtakingly beautiful Mongolian countryside. But before my adventure began in Mongolia, I embarked on a separate, very different journey.

 

I’ve always been a climber. I may not have always been climbing the biggest mountains, but it didn’t change the fact I was climbing. I grew up in Colorado, and mountains were apart of everyday life. Some people get homesick when they travel the world- I get mountain-sick. When I’m away too long, like during the past year in Singapore, I yearn for snow covered peaks. I’ve been fortunate enough to pursue my love of climbing around the world, up peaks in South America, around glaciers in New Zealand, and now to the icy top of Europe. However, I’ve been lucky enough that the mountains I’ve had to overcome in my life have been literal ones. I’ve chased my dreams up snow capped peaks, but as I climb my mountains, I can not forget to help others overcome their own personal mountains: many which are much harder to reach than any great summit.

So as I began planning to spend my summer with the children at Lotus, I decided to include my great passion into the project, and take on my biggest mountain yet: Mt Elbrus. There are mountains all over the globe that I want to climb, but a certain 7 have always withheld an extra intrigue- The 7 Summits. The highest peak on each continent. The closest to Mongolia and the most logical of the 7 to climb would have been Asia’s highest peak. But as I was nowhere near prepared financially or experienced enough to take on the world’s highest peak (YET!), I figured I’d take out one of it’s not so far off neighbors.

Mt Elbrus rises tremendously out of the Caucasus, to a final resting point above the clouds at 18,510 ft (5642m). It’s a dormant volcano, and it’s summit is snow capped year round. To begin the climb, one must fly to Mineralnye Vody, in southern Russia, and begin the adventure near the Georgia border. This portion of the country is shockingly beautiful, and unfortunately notoriously volatile. In 2011, the regular route up Elbrus was closed after masked Islamic separatists killed a car full of Moscow tourists injuring two others, and bombed a cable car pylon, damaging ski lifts and causing gondolas to crash to the ground. However, in recent years the turmoil has subsided, and on my journey, I was fortunate not to witness any of the mountain’s ugly past.

What I proposed as my project for the children of Lotus was this: I’d climb my first of the 7 Summits, and along my journey raise funds for those who call Lotus home. I hoped that through my climb, others would be inspired about the orphanage the way I had. I wanted to do my part to continue the magic that Didi Kalika, the founder of Lotus, started and continues to expand upon over the years. Lucky for me, it worked. Once others began to hear of the work Didi had accomplished over the years, see the faces of the beautiful children, and hear the stories that others had shared from their experiences at Lotus, the money started coming in. As I prepared for my climb, I watched the donations from generous individuals worldwide also climb, and my excitement grew for both the adventures that lay ahead. The plan was to climb Elbrus, and immediately after proceed to Mongolia to volunteer at the orphanage.

This was my first time in Russia, and I knew very little about the country outside the popular stereotypes regarding cold temperatures and vodka (both of which held up to their reputation.) What I discovered was a gorgeous country with people willing to welcome me with open arms.

Moving on to Mongolia, I was even more amazed. Yes, the country is riddled with problems; but also hope. Hope in the bright smiling faces of the children, eager to learn and take on the world. I will forever be grateful for the summer they shared with me, and the hope they unknowingly instilled in a restless climber.

There will be a video and more photos from my Elbrus climb soon, but for now, enjoy Mongolia and the wonderful Lotus children!

-Joey

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