Mongolien: Semjidmaa Damba

Be a model of being healthy mentally and in the heart by the way of self-development.

— Semjidmaa Damba

Born in 1943 to a nomadic Buryat family in Mongolia, Semjidmaa Damba was an enthusiastic student who chose to become a telecommunications engineer. Her diploma work at the Odessa Institute (former Soviet Union) in 1967 helped to considerably improve local automatic telephone stations in Mongolia. Semjidmaa taught telecommunications and information technology for many years, but stopped when she lost her working capacity because of disability. Her spirit, however, remained strong and soon she started, alongside other women, the Mongolian Union of Vulnerable Group Business Women.

Semjidmaa began to read before she joined school. As a pre-school girl she could often be found talking to her neighbors, trying to teach them to read and write. A promising career in telecommunications engineering, with her diploma work helping to improve local automatic telephone stations in Mongolia, was cut short by illness and disability. But rather than despair, Semjidmaa took advantage of the opening up of democratic spaces in the 1990s and, along with a group of other women, formed the Mongolian Union of Vulnerable Group Business Women of which she is now the president. Semjidmaa estimates that at present, Mongolia has more than 40,000 disabled former workers, while the total number of disabled persons of all ages may touch 120,000. Conditions of economic collapse, political turmoil, massive unemployment and poverty as well as indifference on the part of the State, pose particular problems for this group. The Mongolian Union of Vulnerable Group Business Women has grown quickly and now has a considerable number of contributors and volunteers. It runs six clubs and has three local branches, with each of the clubs specializing in a particular area, for example Parkinson’s disease, traditional Mongolian medicine or on developing gifted children from vulnerable groups. The Union also offers training in different areas for thousands of disabled and unemployed women, as well as adolescents and adults from low-income families. Semjidmaa’s new plans include working on preventing desertification, and on the government program Green Wall. A priority here is to involve disabled citizens as a workforce in large-scale cultivation projects such as that in the Kherulen river basin and in this way to expand the scale of her work.

Mongolian Union of Vulnerable Group Business Women