My last day in Mongolia. I managed to catch up with the guys again today. When Ider and I arrived they were laughing. During the night older men came into the hole to seek shelter. When they left they stole a pair of their shoes so now they have only one pair between them and they found this quite amusing in a resigned sort of way. This sort of thing happens to all the children living in manholes around the city. They are never secure or safe anywhere be it from drunk older men or other street kids. Violence is never far away. I have only met a few girls living like this but the situation for them must be incredibly dangerous. We left them with an offer of assistance from an NGO to get some help, two pairs of thermals I won’t be needing and enough money for shoes. Ider the interpreter will be keeping an eye out for them so will post any developments here.
Munkhbat (15) & Altangeret (15) light each others cigarettes. They normally are given these from people when out collecting bottles.
Altangeret (15) looks out of the manhole. They can clearly hear life going above them such as people talking and laughing, traffic and the occasional dog sniffing around.
Dust falls through the manhole as people walk over them, mostly oblivious to their existence. They are extremely sensitive to any new sound or movement at the entrance as this generally means trouble and possible violence.
Caught up with Munkhbat & Altangeret again today. Munkhbat explained he was at the hospital yesterday which is why we missed them. Five days ago someone hit him over the head with a pool cue in a billiard hall. He started feeling very faint so managed to get checked out at a free clinic. I wanted to meet them again to hear why they have ended up in the situation they are now in. All street children’s stories are similar, but they are also all unique. I will post the full story at a later date but for Atlangeret he explained simply, his parents divorced, his dad remarried and his step mum beat him, his dad died, step mum sold the family Gher and all the possessions, moved illegally to Korea leaving Altangeret no choice but move to Ulaan Baatar to start a new life. Age 12.
Munkhbat (15) sits on one of the hot water pipes in the manhole. The temperature outside is -26c with a wind chill factor of-41c. In here it is warm enough to sit in a t-shirt. This however attracts a mass of flies and various other bugs. They both say this is one of the worst things about having to live in these conditions.
Altangeret (15) left home 3 years ago after his father died and his stepmother sold everything and moved to Korea. He found this particular hole soon after arriving and decided to stay. One day he hopes to live in an apartment.
The manhole at night is pitch black and they only use candles occasionally, usually eating in the dark. A light from Ider the interpreter lights them up but also the dust floating within the cramped chamber.
Boredom is a big part in their lives. With only the clothes they are wearing which are completely insufficient for the climate they only venture outside when very hungary.
Munkhbat changes the date on his watch. Apart from the clothes he is wearing this is his only possession in life.
Altangeret and his friend play with a chain he was given as a gift over a year ago. Like Munkhbat's watch it is the only thing he owns. Their dirt ingrained hands belie their young age.
It snowed last night and with that brought a fresher whiter look to UB. Combined with a gusty breeze it was possible to see the mountains on both sides of the valley today, the first time in my 10 days here. Below are some pictures from the UB Pollution story shot yesterday and earlier this week. They call Mongolia the Land of the Blue Sky, which is probably true if you head just a few miles out of the city…
The coal powered electricity and water heating towers pierce through the layer of smog that hangs over Ulaan Baatar industrial zone.
View of the coal powered stations from below. The stations supply hot water through the city via these pipes.
One of the few upsides of the pollution is the beautiful diffused light present every sun rise and sun set.
Spent some more time with Munkhbat (15) & Altangeret (15) today. They are quite shy despite the front they have to put on to survive the extremely tough conditions they live in. They have been a bit reluctant to talk about their lives but after playing pool together tonight they have agreed to meet again in the morning to chat. We left the pool hall in a freezing snow storm and then they just disappeared underground out of sight and out of mind of the vast majority of the population. Just before leaving they told me they had been harassed and beaten by a local man for talking to a foreigner about their situation…then they told my interpreter they were robbed of the $10 I gave them for food by other street kids..a violent, tough, lonely existence…we have arranged to meet in a safer location in the morning.
Munkhbat (15) & Altangeret (15) check out a rubbish shed. By collecting used bottles and anything else sellable they are able to buy just enough food for the day.
Munkhbat (15) & Altangeret (15) look for bottles in a rubbish shed. This earns them just enough to buy food each day if they are lucky. Often other people take the best items leaving them without any income.
Altangeret (15) continues his search for empty bottles to sell to get by each day.
Munkhbat (15) & Altangeret (15) get some sleep in. Despite the freezing temperatures outside, the manholes can become unbearably hot inside. The favoured position is just above the entrance allowing cool air to drift in.
Munkhbat (15) & Altangeret (15) run from rubbish dump to bin in search of sellable items in the local area spending as little time outside in the freezing conditions as possible.
Altangeret (15) cues up and Munkhbat (15) watches as they play pool. One of the few escapes from their reality of living on the streets. Costing a $1 an hour not only do they have fun but keep warm.
Munkhbat (15) & Altangeret (15) run back to their manhole through a freezing snow storm after another day on the streets.
Another day over, Altangeret (15) & Munkhbat (15) lower themselves into their manhole during a snowstorm.
Some days shout black & white, others scream colour..today was a colour day..shooting down at the Black Market following the children collecting bottles to sell for recycling was made ‘interesting’ as most traders aren’t to keen on photographers and the vodka had already been in full flow for some time before getting there..
Children stand on top of container in Narantuul Market. They store their empty water and vodka bottles there to stop them being stolen. At the end of the day they sell them to recycling companies for a few dollars.
A man looks over the polluted landscape of Ulaan Baatar from the Zaisan Memorial built by the Russians to commemorate unknown soldiers and heroes from various wars.
Sunday so everything starts very late here so a good opportunity to catch up with some post production and sleep..!!..Met some new kids this evening..very different to the other children living down the manholes…despite living in this place for over 3 years from the age of 12 they haven’t started drinking vodka like many others..they have a good relationship with the shop owners who give them food when they run out of money..the plan is to catch up with them again later this week when I’ll know a little more about their lives..it was -23c tonight so relatively mild evening..!!
Munkhbat (15) & Altangeret (15) have lived down this manhole in Unur district of Ulaan Baatar for over 3 years. Violence is commonplace and their manhole has been petrol bombed by rival street children 3 times in the last few years.
Despite the harsh living conditions they haven't started drinking vodka and have a good relationship with the shop owners who often give them food.
Electricity is produced by a number of huge coal burning power stations which adds to the pollution from the poor Gher district who use coal and wood to stay warm and cook.
Second post but same day..just catching up after very busy days shooting and finding my way around the city. The aim is to complete 2 or 3 stories that are all inter related but stand up in their own right as a story..pollution, ex soviet workers and street children..these pics are a few examples from each.
Workers walk into the city through thick smog. Pollution in Ulaan Baatar has made it one of the most polluted capital cities in the world.
A crumbling mosaic of Lenin. A reminder of what some older Mongolians say was a better life under Communist rule.
Many of the Soviet built tenement blocks have been left to decay and are now occupied by squatters. Nyamaa (30) who is blind and pregnant listens to the TV. She lives with her husband for free in this tiny room.
Men, woman & children working in sub zero conditions at the city rubbish dump on the outskirts of Ulaan Baatar. They recycle everything and earn approximately $2-$3 for a whole days work earning just enough to buy food for the family that day,
This is my first post on this site and what better place to post from than Ulaan Baatar..! I’m here on assignment to shoot a story for a Human Rights exhibition to be held in Jersey this June. More information about that in February when the schedule has been finalised but already lined up are some of the best photojournalists working today coming over to give presentations about Iraq & Afghanistan and some incredible documentary films..watch this space..!! I’ll be posting-time permitting-each day from here then a full story when I’ve returned..any comments appreciated
Shuree (6) cooling his soup served to him at the Mongolian Outreach Mission centre in Ulaan Baatar. Everyday over 150 woman and children from the poorest Gher area of the city stop for their only proper meal of the day.
Coal and wood burning fires for heating and cooking in the Gher district has made Ulaan Baatar one of the most polluted capital cities in the world.
With temperatures reaching below -30c at this time of year street children sleep in hot water pipe manholes offering some refuge from the freezing nights. The government are trying to stop this by sealing up the entrances but many children break the locks to gain access.
Alcohol abuse is a major problem in Mongolia with over 14% of men officially alcoholics. If not found by Police or Ngo's they could die within hours and many have lost fingers and toes to frostbite due to the extreme temperatures.