Thanks to Reaching the Light and Blue Sky Aviation, Mongolian children with special needs can now receive life-changing therapy

Four-year-old Namuun wears a white polka-dot dress and a bright smile that melts hearts. She runs the length of the physiotherapy room many times, wobbling occasionally. When asked, she sings a song, then runs through some speech therapy exercises.

None of this came easily to Namuun. At 18 months old, she couldn’t crawl, walk or talk. When her mother Oyunaa realised Namuun wasn’t developing normal physical and speech skills like her two older siblings, it broke Oyunaa’s heart.

Improved

Although Mongolia’s health system has improved greatly over the years, professional therapists for children with developmental disabilities are almost non-existent – especially outside the capital.

Fortunately, NGO Reaching the Light (RTL) provides therapy and rehabilitation services to families in remote rural areas.

It runs a developmental centre in the capital Ulaanbaatar and seven satellite centres across the country.

Blue Sky Aviation (BSA) supports RTL through flights to rural locations. There they screen new patients and follow up on those who’ve completed two-week therapy sessions at their centre in Ulaanbaatar.

Committed

When Namuun was 1 year old, a team of therapists flew to her province to screen special needs children.

A physiotherapist ran tests on Namuun and assured Oyunaa that, with regular therapy, her daughter would be able to walk. So Oyunaa and Namuun flew from Ulaangom to Ulaanbaatar for two weeks of intensive treatment.

Six months later, mother and daughter attended a second round of training and therapy.

Namuun’s remarkable improvement is due in large part to the significant commitment and perseverance of her mother, who gave up her job to stay at home with her daughter.

“Every day, I spend about five hours working with Namuun,” says Oyunaa. “When I do the housework, I talk, tell stories and read books to her. I ask Namuun what she needs, and she’s learning to express that.”

Thrilled

With Namuun now able to communicate her basic needs, the RTL staff who checked on her last July are thrilled at the progress she’s making.

“I’m really thankful for RTL and this centre,” smiles Oyunaa. “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 for Blue Sky Aviation. “The first flight was so important because most families can’t afford government flights. The pilot was so kind and good with us. It would have been difficult to travel by car for two days. I’m really thankful for Blue Sky Aviation.”

Scared

Nine-year-old Nomin has also flown with BSA. Her first time was 2013, when she was just five years old. “It went up very fast and was a little scary,” she recalls. “I felt a little sick.” That flight, and subsequent ones over the years, began a radical change for Nomin and her family.

“When we met RTL’s people in Ulaangom, it was the luckiest moment of our lives,” says Anglan, Nomin’s father. For this loving family, it was the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Not long after she was born, severe jaundice turned Nomin’s skin yellow. By the time she was admitted to hospital, the potentially fatal condition had damaged Nomin’s brain. “At 18 months,” Anglan explains, “she couldn’t walk and, at 3 years old, she still couldn’t talk.”

Confused

Nomin’s parents had no idea what to do next. They visited various medical professionals, but received a variety of diagnoses. Anglan didn’t know where to turn until they heard that RTL was screening children at their local hospital.

To the family’s joy, BSA flew Nomin to RTL’s centre in Ulaanbaatar. The 4½-hour flight saved a 2-day drive overland, just as it had for Namuun. “RTL understood what the problem was,” recalls Anglan, “so we started doing proper exercises with Nomin, and recognised a lot of improvement.”

As father and daughter sit on a metal bench, waiting to see staff at RTL’s satellite centre in Ulaangom, they play rock-paper-scissors. It’s clear the two adore each other. “We are really close friends,” says Anglan.

Like Namuun, Nomin’s cognition now appears to be normal. “She’s the top maths student in her class,” says Anglan, “but her balance remains a problem. Her writing isn’t so good, and running and physical work are difficult – but she’s getting better.”

During his 21 years of teaching chemistry, Anglan has seen 300 of his students become doctors. Thanks to BSA and RTL, he now sees hope and a bright future for his daughter.

“I hope Nomin will be a pharmacist one day,” her dad says. “I’ve already started to teach her!”