Teen Trek to Mongolia

By Carolyn Belardo

This week the Academy announced the five Philadelphia public high school girls who were chosen to travel to Mongolia this summer to see firsthand how climate change is impacting the lives of their teenage counterparts in Mongolia.

The trip is part of their involvement in the Museums Connect program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State. Administered by the American Alliance of Museums, Museums Connect pairs museums in the U.S. with museums abroad for a cross-cultural exchange that brings people, especially youth, together through community projects that address important topics, such as women’s empowerment and environmental protection, among others.

The girls are participants in the Academy’s Women in Natural Sciences program. They are among a larger group of WINS students who, since the fall, have been using the Internet and social media tools to learn about climate change virtually alongside their counterparts in a similar program for girls half a world away in Mongolia.

Through late-night Skype calls—there’s a 12-hour difference—Facebook, Twitter and other social media, the teens have been getting to know each other, discussing their unique cultural heritages and the every-day experiences of a typical teenager.

“Even with all the technology they are used to, the girls still all thought it was awesome that they could see each other,” said Betsy Payne, WINS manager. They also have been participating in shared lessons through the Internet.

“The focus of the classes is climate change and how it pertains to water quality and food. Academy scientists have been studying water quality and biodiversity in Mongolia for 20 years, so it’s a natural fit,” Payne said.

Payne informed the five Philadelphia teens that they were selected to spend the first two weeks of July in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia and home of the National Museum of Mongolia, the Academy’s collaborator on the project.

They are: Faatimat Sylla, a sophomore at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science; Geré Johnson, a junior at Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School of Philadelphia; Harleen Gonzalez, a sophomore at Central High School; Linda Gutierrez, a sophomore at The Academy at Palumbo; and Ti’anna Cooper, a junior at Philadelphia High School for Girls.

Before they fly off, five of their study “pen pals” in Mongolia’s ROOTS program, similar to the Academy’s WINS program, will visit Philadelphia. From March19–30, the Mongolian girls will tour the city’s landmarks, explore the Academy’s museum, research labs and specimen collections, and examine an ecologically sensitive marsh in Smyrna, Del.

Munhtuya Goulden (in glasses) and the WINS girls celebrate Mongolian New Year in traditional garb. Photo: Betsy Payne
Munhtuya Goulden (in glasses) and the WINS girls celebrate Mongolian New Year in traditional garb. Photo: Betsy Payne


Mongolia struggles with a prolonged drought and heat wave and other unexpected weather extremes. About three million people live in Mongolia, located between Russia and China, and most of them are herders.

“Herders say the rains have changed. They are more intense. They damage pastures by eroding the soil and animals die from hypothermia,” said Munhtuya Goulden, Museums Connect project program coordinator of the National Museum of Mongolia. Goulden and her husband Dr. Clyde Goulden, director of the Academy’s Asia Center, have interviewed dozens of herders over the last 20 years of documenting their plight.

“Herders also say climate has become more unpredictable. Mongolians have traditional ways to predict the weather, but now because the weather changes so rapidly they are no longer able to predict,” Munhtuya Goulden said.

Goulden, who divides her time between Pennsylvania and Mongolia, hosted the Philadelphia WINS girls at her suburban Philadelphia home on Feb. 18 to ring in the Mongolian New Year. She provided traditional Mongolian clothes and foods for the young women, and they corresponded with the ROOTS girls through social media.

And the learning and sharing will continue.

By early fall, the two intercontinental teams will pull their knowledge and develop lessons and presentations about climate change that will be incorporated into the public programming at the Academy and the National Museum of Mongolia.

“We don’t know what they’ll come up with,” said Dr. Jacquie Genovesi, the Academy’s vice president of education. “We want the teens to actually develop these materials so that we get climate change from their viewpoint.


To read an article by WHYY Newsworks about the Mongolian girls’ visit to Philadelphia and to see a slideshow, click here.

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