Mongolia Campus Blog

Mongolia Campus Blog

Published : Mar 01

Written By : claire charlton

Location :

Gandys co-founder Paul Forkan and Foundation Trustee Preet Legha chat about their recent visit to the Gandys Foundation’s 5th Kids Campus in Mongolia. Taking children from the rubbish dumps to reading, they were blown away by the incredible impact of the project you are helping to support… 



Gandys on the ground… in Mongolia


Gandys co-founder Paul Forkan and Foundation Trustee Preet Legha chat about their recent visit to the Gandys Foundation’s 5th Kids Campus in Mongolia. Taking children from the rubbish dumps to reading, they were blown away by the incredible impact of the project you are helping to support… 



Why Mongolia?



Preet: We were looking to shoot Gandys new winter collection in a country with a cold climate, where we could also help and base our next project. Mongolia is one of the coldest countries in the world and poverty is a huge problem. Temperatures can reach -45°C. I came across Julie Veloo of the Veloo Foundation online who was already doing incredible charity work in the deprived outskirts of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. We were inspired by Julie’s work and partnered up with her to build our Kids Campus library. 




What was the biggest culture shock?



Paul: Seeing the poverty first hand. The people living in the Ger District – a Ger is a Mongolian yurt –have nothing. They are nomads but are forced to work at the rubbish dump close by, where they scavenge for plastic and metal to sell to feed their families. The dump is huge and the air is very polluted from the rubber they burn in piles to keep warm. One lady explained that she had lost her job which meant she had to work at the rubbish dump to support her family. She got very emotional. We couldn’t take photos as people are embarrassed to be there.

Preet: Julie told me that when she first arrived in the Ger District thirteen years ago, she was horrified to see young children at the rubbish dump with their parents, picking through the litter. There were even new-born babies being left there. It’s a dangerous place, where people are often run over chasing after the trucks to get the best plastic and metal. Julie set up a Kindergarten in one of the Gers so that the children had somewhere safe to go. It grew from there to a permanent building and the Gandys library is on the same site.





What was it like seeing the Gandys project in person?



Preet: It was amazing. You read about it and see photos but it doesn’t hit home until you’re there and realise the impact it has made. The Gandys library is a safe sanctuary for children, where they can read, learn and make new friends. It’s a fresh, bright, colourful space and you see how happy the children are there. They run in, grab their books, know where they are going to sit – they feel so at home. 

Paul: Unlike the UK, there are very few libraries in Mongolia; they aren’t a reading nation as a lot of their stories are traditionally told through song. Our library is a new thing for the community. Some of the people we chatted to on the rubbish site initially thought they’d have to pay to use it as it’s smart and modern with underfloor heating and a computer centre – they were in shock that it’s free. 

Preet: The library also has a psychologist who runs workshops for adults and children. These range from creative activities to discussions about nutrition and bullying. It’s fantastic, as it helps set the pre-school children up for primary school and educates the parents as well. 


“If kids are given a chance and nurtured in the right way, they can achieve anything.” Paul, Gandys co-founder 


What was it like meeting the children?



Paul: I played football with them in -20°C! When you’re doing sport or a creative activity with kids, you bond with them quicker. The kids forget about any worries they have. We also did a story session in the library and the children were laughing at my Mongolian pronunciation.

Preet: Mongolian words are so hard to pronounce! We also held a session with the kids where they tried fruits they’d never seen or eaten before. It was amazing to see their faces when they bit into a pear for the first time. 

Paul: I met a girl from the Ger District who’d been through the project and won a scholarship to a private school. She was fifteen and it was clear she could go on somewhere like Oxford or Cambridge. For me, her story shows that if kids are given a chance and nurtured in the right way, they can achieve anything. 

Preet: I was talking to a little girl who said she loves the library so much, she wanted to move into it. Julie was translating and the girl told her, “Don’t worry, I will clean it all so it’s ready for the kids in the morning.” Julie then told me that on the day the library opened, this same little girl had walked alone from her Ger and was the first one at the door.




How did you cope with the cold?



Preet: I wore snow boots and thermal layers. I bought some yak socks when I was there as yak wool is so warm. I also wore my Gandys winter jacket which got me through. 

Paul: The cold is extreme. Apparently, after we left the temperature dropped from -20°C to -45°C! Another reason why our heated library is so important for the community. 


What inspired you most on the trip?


Paul: Julie is incredible and so inspiring. After moving to Mongolia with her husband from Canada she has helped turn a slum into a community. She is a local celebrity and mother figure there; people come up to her, thanking her for giving their kids their first books. And when I told her we wanted to build the library from sustainable materials, she sourced shipping containers that were split open, insulated and transformed into this amazing building. 


“This project has gone way beyond anyone’s expectations.” Preet Legha, Foundation Trustee


Preet: Julie really inspired me too; within a few years of setting up her Kindergarten there were no longer any children at the rubbish dump. That was her goal. Instead, they are kept safe, warm and fed. 



What were your favourite moments? 



Paul: There were so many! Every day my mind was blown. I loved painting with the kids. I rode a camel, held a falcon on my arm, saw a massive statue of Genghis Khan. Mostly, I love how we’ve created an amazing, sustainable building from nothing, which has made such a difference.  

Preet: Sitting in a Ger with a Mongolian family and listening to the stories of what they’ve been through was a real privilege. And any time spent with the kids was so much fun. What I found most incredible was the impact the library is making to lives in the community; word has spread to the centre of Ulaanbaatar so that groups of older school children now come to visit it. Even Julie can’t believe the impact it’s having; it’s gone way beyond anyone’s expectations. It’s down to the donations from our Gandys community that we’ve been able to achieve so much. 





Let your story inspire us


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Inspired by travel, fuelled by giving back. You buy, we donate. From day one our mission has remained the same, to give back. It’s that simple. For every purchase you make with Gandys, we donate towards building schools and making life better for underprivileged children around the world. 


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