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Story Publication logo January 4, 2024

Movement and Permanence: A Community Center in Mongolia's Capital Provides Essential Services to Ger Districts



As climate change and economic opportunities drive nomadic communities towards Mongolia’s cities...


Children gather to play in GerHub’s community center. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

A community center in the recently settled Songinokhairkhan District of Mongolia's capital city offers access to resources and education for nearby residents.

As rural communities rapidly migrate toward urban centers seeking education and employment, they face a variety of challenges as they transition from traditional nomadic herding practices to life in permanent settlements.

Ulaanbaatar’s Songinokhairkhan District in Mongolia has experienced a rapid growth in population density with little development of infrastructure and lacks sanitation, electricity, plumbing, and adequate medical resources and food.

GerHub, a local nonprofit, seeks to fill in some of these gaps with a community center.

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Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city, is home to a population of over 1.5 million people. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

The city is divided into nine districts. Songinokhairkhan District is the fastest growing one. Residents live in self-built houses as well as gers [yurts] in the hills and mountains surrounding the city. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

Many of the Ger Innovation Hub’s visitors are children, who use the space for games and participate in educational activities. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

Accordion-style doors can be opened and closed to maintain a comfortable temperature in the Hub. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

GerHub, a nonprofit based in Ulaanbaatar, constructed a community center in the Songinokhairkhan District through a partnership with Rural Urban Framework, an architectural design research center at Hong Kong University.

Designed to serve as a permanent component of a community that primarily lives in mobile housing, the Ger Innovation Hub provides essential resources to a community that lacks electricity, sanitation, plumbing, schools, and play spaces for children. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

The Ger Innovation Hub’s polycarbonate walls and ceilings retain heat, creating a greenhouse environment for plants. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis, Mongolia, 2023.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and other vegetables grow in planters. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

GerHub recently launched a horticulture and gardening club. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

Meat, dairy products, and animal fats are staples of a traditional diet among nomads in Mongolia, whose primary forms of sustenance came from herd animals, including sheep, yaks, horses, and cows. Urban ger settlements offer little space for animals to graze.

In Ulaanbaatar, 68% of households are food insecure. Those living in ger districts face the greatest barriers to food, including higher rates of unemployment, lower income, lack of available resources, and few methods of transportation.

Fresh produce is often prohibitively expensive in Mongolia, as most fruits and vegetables are imported due to the country’s short growth season, high altitude, and extreme fluctuation in temperatures.

The Ger Innovation Hub was built between 2018 and 2020, using an architectural design that borrows elements of traditional cylindrical gers. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

Layered polycarbonate walls and ceiling slabs surround a wooden frame to conserve heat and reduce energy consumption. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

GerHub staff distribute plants and demonstrate gardening practices. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis, Mongolia, 2023.

A library, art supplies, and a kitchenette are available for GerHub visitors to use. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.

Most Songinokhairkhan District residents cite education as their reason for migration, but ger areas often lack the same educational resources that are available in the central districts of the city and ger district residents consistently have lower rates of education than residents of other districts. While schools exist in the Songinokhairkhan District, young students face barriers to education, including difficult commutes and high rates of pollution in school buildings.

Daria Azbayar, GerHub’s Social Innovation Lead, leads GerHub’s gardening club and teaches ger district residents about caring for seedlings. Image by Katie Schulder-Battis. Mongolia, 2023.


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