When Meredith Potts, executive director of the Flagstaff International Relief Effort (F.I.R.E), left for Mongolia last month with other volunteers to hand-deliver winter clothing and other much-needed items to the poor in that country, she promised to keep in touch with Daily Sun readers. Working with the community of Flagstaff through the summer, F.I.R.E. volunteers were able to collect and pack and ship 15,000 pounds of clothes to Mongolia in 1,200 boxes in a container on Sept. 2. Many items are for children, including a number of Mongolian orphans. Flagstaff resident David Edwards, an internationally-known photographer, spearheaded the start of the relief effort in 1993 and has been its guiding light every since. Potts is his photo studio manager and took a lead in organizing this year's relief effort. Betsey Bruner, Community Editor

Hello everyone. Greetings from Mongolia! We have been working very hard with little time to stop and catch our breath. We have just completed our first week of distribution. Seven of us divided up into three teams everyday and distributed 600 boxes to more than 2,000 people through 30 different organizations. It has been an amazing few weeks.

The first three weeks were spent waiting for our container to arrive and assessing the needs of the Mongolian people. We did a lot of research, talking to many, many different organizations and following one lead after another. We spent time visiting orphanages and care centers. We found that a lot of things have changed in the past four years. The number of street children is less than 25 percent of what it was four years ago due to support organizations and some attention from the government. Many of the organizations we gave to in the past have found funding and are much more supported than they were four years ago.

While some organizations are better off than when F.I.R.E. first started coming to Mongolia, the need is still overwhelming and there are new organizations without any support. We started to dig deeper. This past week we spent a lot of time traveling outside of the city to rural areas that are very neglected by the aid that is being dealt out in Ulaanbaatar. We also spent a great deal of time going from house to house with social workers, aid workers and others who have their finger on the pulse of the community. This form of distribution takes a lot of time and is very expensive, with the cost of gas being more than it is in the states. But this form of distribution is the most rewarding and very effective. We were invited into the people's homes and met their families. We saw first hand the poverty they lived in and met the people we were helping. We were able to give clothes that fit, to all the family members, because they were all right there.

Many of the people we met this way make their "living" digging through trash cans and selling what they find. At one distribution, one of our volunteers actually gave away his own personal jacket when we ran out of coats. I personally met a family that was starving. A 3-year-old child in this family had just started to walk, because of a lack of nutrition.

Next week, we will head to the north, near the Russian border and south, into the Gobi Desert. We have sent 150 boxes in each direction, with another 150 going far west, and another 150 going to the far east. These areas in the countryside, that are hard to get to, are where the need is the greatest. Of course, as in the past years, we had more requests than we were able to meet.

We have had wonderful support here from the people of Mongolia. The Zorig Foundation donated a warehouse space and helped us get our container through customs. I have heard some horror stories about Mongolian customs. Thanks to Zorig, our experience with Mongolian customs was better than I ever could have imagined.

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Our translators were all volunteers from a local Rotary in Action club. These are the new leaders in Mongolia who are under 30 and not old enough for the actual Rotary Club. We also had translators who volunteered from a local international high school.

Our main translator and right hand woman was given to us at no expense for four weeks from the Arigu company. Arigu is run by a F.I.R.E. board member. All of these donations made it possible to deliver these clothes under budget (barely). We are grateful to the people of Mongolia who have shown us nothing but support and appreciation.

The country of Mongolia is constantly changing. More and more people are moving to the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar from the countryside. At least in the city they are able to dig through trash cans. With all the change and adaptability of the Mongolian people, the poverty is unchanging and the need for warm clothing, medical supplies, and many other things, is ongoing and in full force. Thank you to all of you for your support, help and contributions. Because of you we have been able to make a difference to these people, the few thousand of them that we have been able to touch. We will be giving a full report and slide show in January. I will send one more message before I leave the country.

Thank you so much for everything you have done to help send us and the clothing here.


Executive Director F.I.R.E.

— Arizona Daily Sun

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