The poor economic climate in the 1990s forced Oyuntsetseg and thousands of other families to migrate to Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar in search of employment. In reality, jobs were still scarce and despite Oyuntsetseg’s academic qualifications, competition was high. Unable to find work and with four young children to support, Oyuntsetseg began selling clothes to migrants on the city streets. Earning under $2 a day, the family often went hungry and she was unable to afford any heating or insulation even though temperatures often reached -40c.
Suffering worsening aches and pains, one day Oyuntsetseg was left completely unable to move. After medical investigations, she was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus. Devastated by the news, she summoned all her energy to return to health. She says: “When I heard about my disease, I cried like any other woman would but I decided to fight back.”
Whilst in hospital, Oyuntsetseg met many women who were living a similar life of poverty and illness. After getting the all-clear, Oyuntsetseg made the decision to become a nurse to help others in a similar situation. After successfully qualifying as a nurse, her comfortable income meant that she was able to transform the lives of her children and begin to help others.
Helping others to get their lives back
In 2006, with the support of six other like-minded women, Oyuntsetseg formed a support group for women diagnosed with cancer. She says: “Our mission was to educate them on how best to address this type of cancer, give them psychological support and help them with income generation.”
They initially established a preventative health training programme to help women learn how to reduce the risks of developing cancer. With the support of the district health department, doctors provided workshops for hundreds of women. One of the participants, Monkhtuya, 34, says: “My quality of my life has improved a lot. If I am healthy then I can earn well, take good care of my children and send them to school.”
The group also set up a counselling programme to reach out to women recently diagnosed with cancer. After finding out she had cancer, Bulganee, 36, suffered severe depression, but was able to get her life back on track with support from the group. She says: “I was diagnosed with cancer and within days I stopped going to work. Sitting at home I became pessimistic. After receiving counselling from women’s group I went back to work. Today, I have my medicines regularly and take care of my children.”
Partnering with SOS Children
Finding a permanent location to run the support group from proved difficult until Oyuntsetseg approached a team from SOS Children. The SOS Social Centre in the Bayanzurkh District, one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, provided the ideal location. Oyuntsetseg says: “The work SOS Children Mongolia was doing with the community was amazing. I also became part of their activities and started giving prevention training to the mothers and other women.”
Working together, Oyuntsetseg’s support group and SOS Children are working hard to educate women about cancer, and ensure that women diagnosed with cancer receive the support they need.
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