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Kiwanis builds a 6,500-mile bridge

Jack Brockley | Nov 30, 2018

The Kiwanis Club of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

This past September, the Kiwanis Club of Ulaanbaatar came into existence. According to Terry Johnson — a Kiwanian half the world away, in the United States — the challenge of opening Mongolia’s first Kiwanis club was “enormous.” It involved Virginians traveling to Asia, Mongolians traveling to Malaysia and Japanese traveling to Mongolia. Not to mention several Skype conferences around the globe. 

Arima Marder started it all. A native of Mongolia living in the Washington, D.C., area, Marder joined the Kiwanis Club of Poquoson, Virginia, in 2012 and organized a collection of clothing and supplies for an orphanage in Ulaanbaatar. The project impressed her associates in Mongolia and inspired the idea of adding them as satellite members. 

“Our goal,” said Past President Bob Kerlinger, “was to get this satellite organized and grow them into a free-standing club.” 

The Kiwanis Club of Poquoson conducts an online meeting with satellite members in Mongolia. Member Charles Harris gave this plan a boost in 2013. While visiting Asia as an employee of Cru Military (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), he contacted Ganbileg Chuluunbaatar, the director of the Vocational School No. 55 in Ulaanbaatar. Harris set up a Skype meeting between his fellow members in Virginia and the satellite members in Mongolia. The online conference was an instant success. Others followed, and in 2015 Chuluunbaatar attended a Poquoson club meeting while touring the U.S. to learn about educational programs and facilities. 

As interest in Kiwanis grew among the satellite members, Chuluunbaatar and Marder met in Malaysia last March to attend the 43rd Annual Kiwanis Asia-Pacific Convention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

“They made some very important acquaintances at the convention,” Johnson says. “They met 2017-18 Kiwanis International President Jim Rochford, Executive Director Stan Soderstrom and Japanese delegates. … The enthusiasm they sensed from these senior leaders was very encouraging.” 

Kiwanis members celebrate the opening of the first club in Mongolia. Among those encouraging the Mongolian visitors was Koji “George” Yoshida, 2018-19 governor of the Japan District. Yoshida became a liaison between the Poquoson club and the Kiwanis Club of Tokyo, which agreed to join the U.S. club as co-sponsor of the new club in Mongolia.

On September 23, 2018, Kiwanis International processed the paperwork, and the Kiwanis Club of Ulaanbaatar became official. This past November, with Marder and representatives from the Tokyo Kiwanis Club in attendance, the new club celebrated its chartering. 

“While Mongolia enjoys a rich history, many of its children grow up facing significant challenges,” Johnson says. “This country and its children deserve the attention and assistance that Kiwanis, a great humanitarian organization focused on young children, can offer.” 

The new club continues its relationship with the Vocational School #55, supporting the students who have intellectual disabilities.

The Kiwanis Club of Poquoson conducts an online meeting with satellite members in Mongolia.

U.S. and Japanese Kiwanis members sign sponsorship agreement for Mongolia Kiwanis club.

Tokyo, Japan, Kiwanis member George Yoshida poses with Ulaanbaatar Kiwanians and their Kiwanis dolls.

Kiwanis members show off supplies they collected for children in Mongolia.

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