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U.S. Marines Show Their Muscle In Mongolia

June 6, 2004

ULAAN BAATAR, 6th June 2004: A contingent of US Marines celebrated International Children’s Day helping building houses for Habitat homepartners in Mongolia.

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The thirty-two “Leathernecks” spent the day digging and creating foundations for five new houses and repairing roofs in Khaan Uul district, about 27 km. west of the Mongolian capital.

The marines, who are normally based in Okinawa, Japan, were in Mongolia to train local military forces.

Their leader, Major John T. Sullivan, said: “We wanted to do something to make a difference on International Children’s Day. We are happy to have helped build these houses for these families and their children.”

The marines’ construction crew duty came about through the unit’s chaplain who was familiar with Habitat for Humanity International. He contacted Charles Jolliffe, the national director of Habitat for Humanity Mongolia through the local “Youth With A Mission” office to arrange the volunteer build.

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Jolliffe said: “The spirit of disciplined service exhibited by the marines touched us all. When this attitude was visible, language was no barrier while building. The Mongolian homepartner families, the construction staff, the marines, and Habitat staff joined together and flexed our muscles, to make it a worthwhile building experience for all involved.”

To date, HFH Mongolia has completed some 80 simple, affordable homes in Khaan Uul. The aim is to build 450 by 2008.

HFH Mongolia began in 1999 and operates three affiliates, in Ulaan Baatar, Erdenet and Darkhan. Two programs have been initiated in rural areas where the focus is on renovating existing houses. It has also rolled out the “Save & Build” concept, which is being used by 25 savings groups involving nearly 256 families. As of the end of the March 2004 quarter, Habitat had helped 186 families.

Mongolians traditionally live in extended families in round tents called “gers”. During winter months, when temperatures drop to minus 35 degrees, gers are heated by coal. But poor ventilation means health problems especially among the young and the elderly. Water quality is also poor. With as many as 18 people in a single ger, there is little privacy.

The primary house design used by HFH Mongolia is a 36 sq. m. design. The houses use red brick, Styrofoam for insulation, gypsum board, sand, cement, concrete roof tiles, tin, and tar paper. These materials are strong enough to protect families against winter snows and summer dust storms.

Because of the harsh winters, building is only possible from May to October.