Four-year-old Namuun wears a white polka-dot dress and a bright smile that could melt hearts. She runs the length of the physical therapy room multiple times, occasionally with a small wobble. When asked, she sings a song, then runs through some speech therapy exercises with Reaching the Light’s Enkhtsetseg (Eenee) at Ulaangom Hospital in the far northwest of Mongolia, close to the Russian border.
None of these simple tasks came easy for Namuun. At age one and half, Namuun couldn’t crawl, walk, or talk. When Oyunaa, her mother, realised that her baby girl wasn’t developing normal physical and speech skills like the two older siblings, it broke her heart. 'I was really shocked and depressed and cried a lot,' Oyunaa remembers.
Although Mongolia’s health system has improved greatly over the years, professional therapists for children with developmental disabilities have been almost non-existent, especially in regions outside the capital of Ulaanbaatar. Recommended treatment for children with special needs is often wrong, resulting in years of lost therapy that could have improved their lives.
One exception is Reaching the Light whose mission is to provide therapy and rehabilitation services to families living in rural areas of Mongolia through screening trips to remote locations, a developmental center in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, plus establishing satellite developmental centres in seven locations across the country where children and their families can continue to grow and thrive. Blue Sky Aviation (MAF in Mongolia) supports Reaching the Light through flights to the rural locations where they screen new patients and follow up on those who have completed two-week therapy sessions in the capital. On the July 2017 trip, the team had an opportunity to see Namuun’s progress.
There is hope
During the summer of 2014 when Namuun was one and a half years old, a team of therapists from Reaching the Light flew Blue Sky Aviation to Oyunaa’s province in the northwest of the country to screen special needs children. Ulaangom, near Lake Uvs, is 1335km (830 miles) from Ulaanbaatar - a trip that takes approximately 24 hours by road.
Physical Therapist, Dolgormaa (Dogi), ran tests on little Namuun and assured her mother there was hope, that her daughter would improve and walk with regular therapy. Oyunaa and Namuun flew with Blue Sky Aviation to the capital to join a two-week intensive therapy program at Reaching the Light’s developmental centre where parents receive training while children receive therapy services. Six months later the two attended a second round of training and therapy.
A mother's dedication
Namuun’s remarkable improvement over the past two and half years is due in large part to the significant commitment and perseverance of her mother who quit her job to stay home with her daughter.
'Every day I spend about five hours working with my daughter. I really talk with her. When I do the housework I talk and tell stories, and I read books to her. Now she calls everyone "daddy" but every time I correct her and say, "I’m your mother." I ask what is her need, and she’s learning to express that.'
Namuun can now communicate her basic needs such as wanting to eat, drink, or use the toilet, and the Reaching the Light staff is thrilled to see the progress she’s made during their follow-up assessments.
'I’m really thankful for Reaching the Light and this local satellite center,' says Oyunaa who visits the satellite centre for one week out of every month. 'I’m so happy to see my daughter walk like a normal child. Now she goes to a normal kindergarten, so when people see my daughter, they don’t realise she has a problem.'
Oyunaa is also grateful to Blue Sky Aviation. 'The first flight was so important because the government flights are too expensive and most families can’t afford those flights. At that time, five families flew together to Ulaanbaatar and the pilot was so kind and very good with us. It would have been so difficult with this little child to go by car for two days. I’m really thankful for Blue Sky.'