FRIDAY 29 March 2013
Nasa's first letter
I hope everyone is enjoying spring's late arrival.
Recently I recently received my first written letter from Nasa, which was a very emotional moment.
Here is the translation:
Hi dear Martina,
How are you? What are you doing? I read your letter. It is very nice, thank you so much. I'm good and I'm learning well. Vannie is here on holidays from Umnugobi, he is helping me. Is it cold there? Here is nice and a little bit warm. Byambaa is good.
My cows, sheep and birds are good. I wish you all the best.
Nasa was unable to read, write or solve simple math task until the spring of 2012. In the spring of 2011 I had enrolled her in a private school, but various approaches of teaching her failed, until we finally figured out in out a year later.
She had finally settled into a family she trusted and felt comfortable with. In March 2012 I hired a lovely motherly lady, Ms. Davaa, to homeschooled her. Once a week Ms. Davaa would make that two hour journey to the countryside (one way) and teach Nasa the alphabet and math. By the fall Nasa was able to read and write all letters and do simple math task. When I retuned in December, she was reading regular books and poetry.
In December 2012 Ms. Davaa moved to Utah of all places and we found another teacher, Tuvshin. This time Nasa's teacher is more like a sister, she goofs around with Nasa, exchanges make-up tips, chats and shares "secrets". Tuvshin is very effective, which allowed Nasa to excel quickly.
We are now thinking about altering the approach and bringing in some practical lessons, like teaching her some basics of biology and physics, so she can understand her environment better. When I visited Nasa last, I asked her if she knew that the earth was a round planet, and she looked at me in surprise.
This was a very humbling experience, as I understand how lucky I was to have had people in my life who thrived to not only teach me something, but who allowed me to partake.
If anyone has suggestions, or knows of great practical games or other teaching tools, I would love to hear about it. Please remember that I am dealing with a language barrier, while at the same time I can't fall back on books or toys for young kids. I made that mistake earlier, which upset Nasa; naturally, she doesn't want to be treated like a six year old.
Thanks again for all you support. Nasa's success is something I am very proud of, more the she will ever know. Everyone had given up on her, predicting she is incapable of learning. She has proven all the skeptics wrong! But my persistence was only possible through your persistence and support. Thank you!
FRIDAY 16 November 2012
I hope everyone has recovered from Sandy; what a whirlwind, literally and figuratively, two storms and the election. Never before was I glued so intensely to the TV, when I had power, and to the radio, when I didn't.
Once again, I have to apologize for my intermittent communication. Time never seems to be on my side, with or without these external disruptions. Naturally, the more happens, the harder it is for me to be timely in my reporting. And a lot has happened.
I didn't mention it in my April update, but amazingly we found Vannie's mom.
We had all accepted the fact that Vannie had been given up as a toddler, and with a name as common as Smith or Johnson, there was no way to track his family down. But sometimes things work in mysterious ways.
We decided not to tell Vannie anything, because at that point, it was just a suspicion. Some serious detective work was needed, and who was better suited for that than Ayuraa, the police chief in charge of runaways! When I returned to the US in late April, I believed that I'd set things in motion.
In June, Jeff and Astra surprised me with a large donation; Jeff had toured for the first time in a long time and sold out every venue he played. With the proceeds coming in, I decided to proactively find a solution for Baaskaa's living situation before the next winter arrived and to speed up the process of locating Vannie's mom. Because I had a similar experience in my twenties, I could relate to Vannie and I disagreed that we'd know of a possible reunion of mother and son, while they still believed they were lost to each other. So I went back.
To read the full story, please go to the website.
Further updates will follow within the next couple of weeks.
Thanks again to all of you for your ongoing support and interest.
Best wishes, Martina
WEDNESDAY 13 June 2012
Updates spring 2012
I am back from my 10th trip to Mongolia - I didn't get the numbers right in my last email but then again, at this point it doesn't really matter all that much, 9th or 10th trip...
But not only that, I am actually on my way back already. Time is never on my side and it's a constant struggle to keep up, so I apologize for the delayed updates. I didn't really plan to go back so quickly, but thanks to Jeff Mangum and Astra Taylor consistent support throughout the last year, I have the ability to return to Mongolia and set up a home for Baaskaa.
Each trip is different, and often the focal point becomes something entirely different then I anticipate. I thought Nasa would be the most challenging one of the three kids, when in fact she was better then ever, a happy chatty girl, absorbed by her outfits and make up. She eagerly called her foster family at least four times a day to report what she had done and seen. And she was hungry to learn and asked to get another chance.
Vannie was happy with his new school environment, he was popular and made friends quickly. His teachers ensured me that he is doing well and had caught up, even so he lacked two years of schooling in comparison to his classmates. I am a bit weary about this, as I know that Mongolians don't like to be the bearer of bad news. The school is definitely a good school, they just got computers and simulators for the heavy machines they teach to operate. All they need now is consistent electricity.
Baaskaa turned out to be the challenge this time, as I finally understood what he is up against as an orphan in a world solely based on family ties. Even if he'd have the money to find a place to rent, it is not done; a single young man, living by himself just seems wrong to Mongolians. When in UB, his only option is to couch surf. In order to avoid the situation where he has to ask for favors he prefers to work in mining, as the mines provide lodging. Because it's not a choice, but a necessity, he often ends up in situations where he is taken advantage off. Most mines don't provide any opportunities, but offer low skill jobs, which are based on manual labor only. Even so he is already 20, he is still growing, and I doubt that hard, physical work will allow him to fully develop, physically as well as mentally. I think he realizes the consequences of his limitation, as he expressed interest to go back to school.
It is my dream to bring Baaskaa to the US so he can see a different part of the world and learn English, which would be a huge asset for him. But the current immigration requirements make it almost impossible for him to come. Young men his age have to provide proof of family ties, a healthy savings account and a work contract. The three things he strives for but doesn't have yet. It makes me mad that he gets punished time and again for being by himself. But miracles happen, so lets hope for the best.
I thought learning about cows, goats and sheep was odd, but essential. It has become apparent I will have to expand my knowledge into mining. It is now important to understand the difference between electric and hydraulic excavators, in order to choose the right schools and programs for the kids.
I never get bored in Mongolia, that's for sure.
I want to thank you all again for your ongoing support. The kids know that they have a huge group of friends rooting for them from the States, and it makes them proud!
With gratitude, Martina
PS: the website will be update in a couple dates, I will send out an announcement.
FRIDAY 24 February 2012
My ninth trip to Mongolia
I hope you all can enjoy the spring. Somehow we skipped winter this year!
Hence, I am off to Mongolia, just to get a little bit of snow, ice, painful winds and -27F daytime temperatures. :))
But I can't wait to see Baaskaa, who is starting slowly to use the internet to communicate with me. There still seems to be a hurdle, as he never contacts me directly, but through an internet savvy friend, who then contacts me. I hope I will be able to show & tell him writing emails and using Skype during my stay.
Vannie and Baaskaa haven't seen each other for a year now, so we will have an exciting reunion and hopefully hear all the tales and stories.
I cannot wait to hear how Vannie is doing at school. So far I only hear good reports.
And I have found one more way to help Nasa tackling reading and writing. I figured that the problem is not only that she has difficulties to concentrate, but that she doesn't really know what reading and writing is good for. She has done well without so far, so what' the fuzz about? My hope is that while we are together, the boys will talk about their accomplishments and what they have learnt, so maybe Nasa will get an understanding of what can be done. I will also enlist the boys to explain to her what opportunities will open up if she can solve some simple math tasks and can read product descriptions. It might mean more coming from them, then form me.
Thanks to the wonderful Jeff Mangum and Astra Taylor I will be able to hire a private tutor, who will visit Nasa either once a week or twice a month to teach her basic and give and oversee homework. This is quite costly and difficult to organize, but Jeff was kind enough to attach Children Of The Blue Sky to the ticket sales of his still ongoing tour, which means I got a dollar of almost each ticket he sold - and he sold a lot, he is very popular!
I highly recommend to listen to his wonderful, soulful music. And who ever supports Jeff, supports a lot of good causes! walkingwallofwords.com
I will try to update the the blog while in Mongolia, but I have the feeling I won't be as consistent as I'd hope, due to a lot of traveling. I can't wait to spend 16 hours in a bus to Gobi in the winter, sliding on thick ice, if we are lucky enough not to get stuck in the snow. But who cares, as long as Baaskaa and Vannie will have a good time, I will too.
I will be back on March 19th, until then, enjoy the spring.
I am forever grateful to you all, Martina
SATURDAY 23 April 2011
Accusations and their repercussions
Even so I always wondered why anyone would ever read someone's
opinion on public events, I couldn't help it.
Here are my 5 cents about the accusations towards Greg Mortenson
by CBS's 60 Minutes.
Happy egg hunt in the rain!
MONDAY 18 April 2011
Updated posts on Happenstance blog
I apologize for the interruption of blog posts.
We had a technical glitch and, while in Mongolia, I combined the two impossible things - parenting and making a movie!
But now we back up and running!
Please stay tuned for updates about Mongolia and our film - currently titled "8th trip to Baaskaa"
Best wishes, Martina
MONDAY 27 December 2010
the children's update from October 2010 trip are now available on the website!
Happy Holidays Everyone!
I hope you've enjoyed the holidays and are still doing so! I managed to spend
most of the time in my pajamas and I have to say I've loved it.
Also, I was able to complete the updates about the kids - please check back for
the travel update in January!
the kids are all doing well: Baaskaa is getting antsy to work as an excavator
driver;Nasa is learning a craft and beginning to open up;Vannie is discovering
that his decisions have repercussions;Davaa is blooming into a young,
responsible man, and visiting his ill mother often; andEnkhtsetseg has started
her vocational training and rediscovered city life - she may be biting off more
than she can chew!
to keep up with the lives of these very special children, go to
I am also happy to announce that the photo exhibit at Ciao For Now in the East
Village is being held over to January 13th. If you haven't had a chance to
visit, please come have a look. You can preview the photos at this link:
If you are interested in purchasing one of these 16x20 framed photos, please
contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Your purchase is tax-deductible and the
proceeds will go directly to the children, helping to secure livestock, clothes,
school supplies and more.
For the children, 2010 was a good year. Initially I had hoped to place more
children, but with the funds and resources we had, five was the right number. In
order to do it right, we have to stay small. I am not a big fan of care centers,
as I have seen too many children go in and out through a revolving door, with no
real progress. It's a hard decision, because I keep thinking about the "could
haves" and "should haves", but I'd rather be in charge of a few and do it well.
I am of course hoping to help more children in 2011!
On my last night in Mongolia I accompanied the police on a nightly raid to
collect street children. With the help of kids already in the center, Ayurzana's
officers searched for kids in hot spots like malls, game centers and coffee
shops. Within three hours we had collected 24 kids. It was heartbreaking! there
is a lot more work to do!
Please spread the word about my organization to people you think would be
If you wish to donate to Children Of the Blue Sky or one particular child,
please go towww.eternalblueskyofmongolia.org/donate. and let me
know who should benefit from the donation.
thank you very much for your support. I can not repeat it often enough, I would
not be able to do what I do without your help, encouragement and excitement for
I wish everyone a Happy New Year. May the next year bring happiness, health and
success to you.
SUNDAY 5 December 2010
Children Of the Blue Sky
An updated Photo Exhibition of the children and landscapes of Mongolia, the Land of the Blue Sky!
December 1st to December 31st, 2010
Ciao For Now
523 E 12th Street, btwn. Ave. A & B; p: (212) 677-2616
Please join us for the Opening on December 9th, 7pm - 9pm.
For more information about my work in Mongolia please go to www.eternalblueskyofmongolia.org
If you are still looking for Christmas presents, please check out the Mongolian Felt slippers, handmade by the children in my program. they will be available for sale at the opening. For a preview, please go to
Hope to see you all!
tUESDAY 2 November 2010
turtle news from turtle Martina...
I am back from Mongolia, where I spent the month of October.
All kids are fine and in good health.
Baaska - Baaska decided (not entirely voluntarily) that he will stay on the farm
until next spring, because he realized that Byambaa really needed him. Byambaa
had built a green house and needed all hand on deck for the work and first
harvest. But he is dying to go go out and work, to become independent and be
able to support himself.
Davaa - Davaa spent his summer at Byambaa's, and turned out surprisingly fit
for life in the country. We didn't think that Davaa was made for manual labor,
but he proved us wrong! Now Davaa is back in Naleikh, in his second year of
vocational training to become a bulldozer driver. He is looking forward to
graduate next May.
Nasa - again, was the biggest surprise, she matured very much. For the first
time she initiated serious conversations. During the last trip she started to
chat, which surprised all of us, but now she has something to say. She wants to
get her point across and hear what others think. I am very proud of Nasa!!!
Vannie - as usual, Vannie is happy, content, doesn't need anything and laughs a
lot. When Sara visited the kids in August, he expressed for the first time that
he wanted to write a letter to me, which he did. He seems less shy towards me,
except that he still doesn't want me to go with him herding the animals. He
believes it's too dirty for me!
Enkhtsetseg - she stared last September in Naleikh, the vocational school where
Baaska and Davaa are. She loves her cooking program and to be with other teenage
girls. I saw a lot of make up and jewelry. Her cooking program is only one year,
so she will graduate with Davaa in May 2011.
this trip was different from the other ones as I combined the two thing I love -
Mongolian and film making. I participated in a film conference East Meets West
http://eastmeetswest.culture360.org/, organized by the Arts Council of Mongolia,
which receives a good portion of their support from the Soros foundation
(everything always comes full circle!)
I took Baaska with me to the conference, because I wanted to introduce him to my
life and show him that there are other things to do out there. For five days we
listened to panels, Mongolian film makers making their pitches and participated
in cinematography workshops by James James Chressanthis, a DP from Hollywood.
Baaska was very impressed and at the end of the conference Baaska expressed his
wish to go to film school in New York and write a script about his life. So we
will have another filmmaker in the family! Be careful what you wish for!!!
Seriously, I am very excited that he could participate and that he now thinks
his life' story is worth telling!
After the conference I picked up Nasa from her home in the country and had her
stay with me in UB.
the last horrible winter had devastated most of Mongolia's herders, five million
life stock perished due to cold and starvation. I wrecked my brain what to do
for Nasa, a girl who has no education, but needs to be able to make cash, in
case her animals die. I came up with the idea of sending her to a felt making
workshop. Felt is a common fabric in Mongolia, used as one of the layers in the
yurts and for clothing. We found a lovely workshop where women, in similar
situations then Nasa, make felt slippers, calendars, boshes and other useful and
pretty items. the women embraced Nasa and she completed her first pair of
slippers within 4 days! When I asked her who she wants to give it to, she beamed
"Baaska!" Baaska now owns his first pair of house slippers!
I am trying to support Nasa by selling the slippers here in New York. All
slippers are handmade by the Nasa and the women in the workshop.
I want to give you, my supporters, "first look". If you are interested in
purchasing a pair, please email me which pair you'd like, to make sure it is
still available, and then pay with credit card through my website, which makes
your purchase a tax deductible donation.
You can view the slippers online
or purchase them at Sustainable NYC
All proceeds will go to Nasa's newly established savings account.
throughout the next month I will publish more detailed updates abut each
individual kid and my last trip.
I hope this email find you all well.
I hope you enjoyed your 4th of July weekend and you are all staying cool - which
seems sort of impossible!
At the beginning of May, I went back to Mongolia to be there for Baaskaa's
graduation. Under no circumstance would I have missed this important day.
After two years of vocational school, Baaskaa graduated with very good grades
and a special award for good leadership as head of the dormitory.
Now he is a professional excavator driver, a job that is highly regarded and
paid well in Mongolia.
It is unbelievable what he's achieved in such a short time. two years ago, he
was living on the street. He had nothing and nowhere to go. Now he has a family,
a large extended family, he has many friends, and he's completed a vocational
education that will enable him to make good money. He also has a small herd of
goats, which will continue to grow.
I am very, very proud of him.
to read a full update of my journey, please go to spring2010
All the kids are doing fine.
Nasa is a new girl! She started reading and writing and loves it. She is
becoming a bit more social and participates in conversations and happenings
Davaa completed his first year of schooling. He is very concerned about his mom
and decided to start saving money for their future.
Enkhtsetseg became a full-blown country girl. She has rosy cheeks and loves life
with Byambaa and Byaraa.
Vannie stopped smoking and grew in height quite a bit. He almost looks like a 16
year-old boy. He loves his new life and is everyone's darling.
Zola is still waiting to get a plot allotted, so he can live with his mom.
Baaskaa, after a brief summer vacation on Byambaa's farm, will look for a job.
to read more detailed updates on each child, please go to the kids
I learned something new (as always!). Every time I am in Mongolia, I buy shoes
for each kid. that is the one thing they are always asking for. this time they
asked again! I was a bit surprised, as I had just been there in January /
February - ?why would they need new shoes already? And then I saw why. the
recently purchased shoes were run down, had holes, the zippers were broken. I
finally got it. the terrain is so rough and they spend so much time outside,
that the shoes simply don't last. the only shoes that seem to make it more than
a few months are my Merrill's, which I keep leaving behind. Some of them had a
two-year life span!
Good shoes are expensive, no matter how you look at it or which country you buy
If anyone has contact with corporate sponsors who sell shoes, I would appreciate
to be put in touch. If anyone has old, but robust shoes that you don't need
anymore, please send them my way. Even if they have small holes, the kids will
still get a few months out of them! And it will help me financially, as funding
is always tight.
thanks in advance.
Please contact me if you have any questions or want more detailed accounts.
As always, I could not have done this work without all of your support. I wish I
could share the moment of Baaskaa's graduation with more than pictures. It was
the most amazing feeling to watch him be awarded a medal for good leadership!
But the saying is right - it takes a village to raise a child!
In gratitude, Martina