SAVING CHILDREN'S SOCCER FIELDS: Part of the Struggle Against Predatory Development in Ulaanbaatar

It was late spring 2002. The short construction season just commenced after a long winter in Ulaanbaatar. Enkhtaivan Tsogtoo, 48, a tan-faced thick man woke up and looked through his window and glanced at his favorite site as usual. It was a football field located in front of his and several other 9-store apartments' in the low-income area of Ulaanbaatar where he lived. A former football player and small businessman and a father of three, Enkhtaivan loved playing football with the children of his area on that field.

Suddenly, Enkhtaivan's eyes caught sight of a big tractor moving toward the field. In a second, the tractor began breaking the cement border of the field.

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"I didn't have time to eat or wash. I needed to take an action right away," Enkhtaivan told the Local Solutions Foundation of the many actions he took in to save the football field for the local children. He phoned to Mongolian-American Eagle TV, a national TV and other of Ulaanbaatar's TVs and newspapers to mobilize public reaction against the illegal taking of the playing field – the only nearby recreation area for the many local children.

Enkhtaivan also called his local authorities and elected officials demanding an answer to his question, who gave the tractor operator permission to begin construction work at the field. Also he called to the director, principle and the doorman of Primary School number 83 located adjacent to the football field.

After alerting everybody who might join his struggle to save the field, Enkhtaivan washed and swallowed a piece of bread. He then rushed outside to directly confront the tractor.

When he approached the football field, he saw a shower of small stones falling on the tractor scoop. The tractor's windows were broken. About a hundred primary school children were throwing stones at the tractor and yelling 'Go away! Leave our field alone!' Then one of children shouted, 'Our football teacher is coming!' This excited everybody and the children began shouting louder, "Go away! Take your tractor away!" The shower of stones became more intense.

Enkhtaivan raised his hands and shouted as loudly as he could. "Children stop! Let me talk to the tractor operator."

The children stopped throwing stones.

A man in a worn, dark woolen sweater climbed out of the tractor raising his arms. Enkhtaivan approached him and shook his hand saying, "My friend, please go away right now. No-one ever built anything on this field. And no-one will. Everybody in this area loves his place. It is the only playing field nearby for all these children. We will fight for this place as long as there are children to enjoy it. We are desperate around here because of the many attempts to take our football field away. Please convey my word to your bosses."

The tractor departed and the football field was saved. The media investigated and revealed that the play ground land was illegally given to a construction business to build a hotel. Enkhtaivan went on television to call to other local communities to stand up and fight for their children's playgrounds by fostering a specific sport on the playing fields.

"While everybody enjoys the countryside during summer, I can't go. I have to be at home all year around to watch our football field," Enkhtaivan said. "Although I wish I could go to countryside."

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Enkhtaivan's small business was related to re-selling diary products purchased in Arkhangai and Uvurhangai provinces. However, he couldn't continue his business. From the day he saw the tractor on the football field his life changed. From an abundant peaceful family, it turned into a poor unstable one. His wife didn't know what to do with an unemployed, "business failure" husband who spent all day teaching football to groups of children who would knock their door. She also was tired of her husband's constant fight with anybody who tried to steal the football land.

"I understand her. She is a hero because my whole family economy is riding on her shoulder. I hope one day she'll understand and appreciate me." Enkhtaivan said.

However, Enkhtaivan is appreciated and admired by his community. Since 1987, the year his family moved in his current home, he began playing football with neighbor boys and trained dozens of football teams that brought medals from district, city and national football games. Parents whose sons wore medals from their football playing achievements now join Enkhtaivan's struggle to save the field and make phone calls if something happens to the field. They're also more willing to pay for their children's shoes and t-shirts and football playing in competitions. However, most of the families are poor and can't afford football costumes for their children.

In 2007, Enkhtaivan is working with four boy's teams and is recruiting to form the first girl's team. Children from six apartment complexes each of which have 412 households play on the football field all year around and there is no other football field not only nearby but also in whole district of 300,000 people. There were at least four full size football fields in the early 1990s, but three of them are gone – victims of unregulated construction. Now hotels and bars prosper on those fields.

Enhtaivan's struggle to build sports teams from children of the local community offers a unique solution to the problem of predatory construction development. Corruption, unplanned city development and lack of zoning regulations, secrecy of land use regulations and city plans were the main causes of the loss of hundreds of playgrounds, sport fields, pedestrian and green park areas in the capital city of Mongolia over the past decade. Corrupt land-taking activities increased as the country's economy began to boom following increased mining revenues and the growth in demand for Mongolia's resources in China.

Enhtaivan's experience and supporting sports at a particular area seems to be the best local solution to preserve and protect children's play grounds and sports fields until Ulaanbaatar's public is allowed to adopt a city code and participates in the design and enforcement of city zoning regulations. The current city government not only doesn't have the political will to change city construction practices, but also encourages corrupt activities. Ulaanbaatar citizens' struggle to saving a historical buildings, green areas, pedestrian roads, and playgrounds, school yards and hospital yards. Watchdogs of these areas are often defeated because the developers' tractors and demolition teams often come in the middle of the night.

Local Solutions Foundation selected Enkhtaivan as the key person to save the football field and strengthen a community and children's sport success in his area (Songino-hairhan district, Unur horoolol, near 83th school, Ulaanbaatar).

We would like to raise money for his 2007-2008 training activity that involves Enhtaivan's salary as a full time trainer for 12 months, his assistant trainer's salary and immediate needs of five teams: 1) new team for girls named 'Burtein ohid'; 2) new team for 7-10 years old boys; 3) a new team for 11-12 years old boys; 4) a currently active team of 13-15 years old boys'; 5) and a currently active team of 16-18 years old boys named 'Altan shonhor'.

Altogether, the project of saving a football field with five children's football teams, each consisting of 18 children, will cost $11,000. We can send you a tally of expenses if you are willing to contribute to this project.

If you want to support this project, please write to one or all of the following contacts and friends of Local Solutions Foundation: Oyungerel Tsedevdamba Jeffrey Falt Pam Eglinski