Maitreya Charity was established in the United States to assist with the work of Panchen Ötrul Rinpoche in Mongolia. With the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ven. Rinpoche founded Asral NGO in 2001 to combat poverty, with the core aim of keeping families together to prevent children from going onto the streets.
A Centre was built in 2003 with support from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, located at the edge of the vast shanty area in the Bayangol District in Ulaanbaator, the world’s coldest capital. This multi-purpose building houses many of Asral’s social initiatives, training projects and community activities, including the children’s Hot Meal Project.
Since the collapse of communism in 1992, it is estimated that one-third of Mongolia’s population is experiencing extreme poverty, unable to afford basic food and shelter. The country is precariously sensitive to weather, with temperatures reaching to minus 40 C in the winter and plus 40 C in the summer. Millions of livestock have died because of these conditions, resulting in thousands of herders and their families loosing their livelihood.
In the last two decades, upwards on thirty thousand people a year moved to the city, resulting in the growth of the vast shanty area that surrounds Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar. The majority of people live in traditional tents (gers) or shacks. Living conditions are cramped and unhygienic. Pollution is high and there are major respiratory, heart and kidney diseases.
Poor health, malnutrition, lack of warm clothes, food, heating and housing are all major problems. Water has to be purchased and carried long distances, and toilets are pits in the ground. High unemployment has resulted in an increase in crime. Alcoholism is rising, families are breaking up and children are ending up on the streets. Despite Mongolia’s fast growing economic success, poverty remains rampant.
Asral works closely with local Governors and Community leaders, supporting social reintegration for women and young people, providing family support, housing and direct emergency aid, helping to increase household incomes through creating jobs for women, and improving access to education for children and young people. Asral also has Centres in Gachuurt, on the outskirts of Ulaanbaator, and in Underschill, in the Gobi Desert region.