How much do we know about the roles and responsibilities of social workers present at every administrative unit of Mongolia? Especially during this COVID-19 pandemic period, social workers are assigned with the duty of ensuring that every citizen and household receives inclusive social protection and welfare benefits. We spoke with Ms Ts.Gerelmaa, a social worker of Songinokhairkhan district of Ulaanbaatar city about her work and how she has been coping with the pandemic.
Ts.Gerelmaa works for the largest khoroo (an administrative unit within districts of Ulaanbaatar city) of Songinokhairkhan district with 9474 inhabitants, of which 3043 are children below the age of 18. Another distinctive aspect of her khoroo is that its inhabitants live entirely in gers (Mongolian yurt), which lack access to central heating and sanitation, and are a major cause of Ulaanbaatar’s hazardous levels of air pollution in the winter.
Social workers in Mongolia, Gerelmaa explained, mainly serve to guide citizens in social and economic issues that may arise. Based on the severity of the situation, they first conduct a risk assessment, after which,they advise on next steps to take, including what government agencies the individual could approach, and other paths to resolve their problems. In cases of suspected domestic violence, this process is not solely conducted by the social worker, but completed in collaboration with a whole social protection team, including a police officer, a medical professional, and a school counselor, who perform their duties as instructed in the Law against Domestic violence.
In partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, UNDP Mongolia, with support from the Government of Japan, took the lead in digitalization of work social workers to ease the complex manual administrative practices hindering effective social service provision for their communities. Through the new digital virtual assistance platform, social workers can now enter information into their own customized database. Gerelmaa expressed that the tablet and fingerprint scanner she received as part of the project have allowed her to reach residents at risk in a much shorter period of time as she does not have to print different forms to be filled in and open separate folders for each case.
The online system records case histories, is especially important, as in some cases, citizens in need of support do not remember whether they made other reports or received assistance in the past.
Passionate about the cause she works for, Gerelmaa was grateful to be given small grant funding as part of the project’s initiative on supporting innovative ideas of local social workers. Gerelmaa utilized the funding to provide more personal and tailored support to community members facing issues linked with domestic violence, unemployment and poverty. Through her project, she targeted 16 households reported to suffer from the consequences of alcoholism, including domestic violence, as domestic violence is present in 50 percent of complaints on alcohol abuse reported at the khoroo. As part of her efforts to discover the root causes of this issue faced by an increasing number of households, Gerelmaa used the funding that she received to designate an intimate interview room at her office with a play area for children to stay at while their parents give their personal interviews. She emphasized that this arrangement has allowed her to interact more closely with her clients and express her readiness to listen to their concerns sincerely. Gerelmaa noticed that this approach helps people to feel at ease and share their concerns more willingly.
With national COVID-19 infection rates increasing rapidly in 2021, social workers who interact with all members of their community, from infants to elders, have resorted to only making home visits for urgent cases. Nonetheless, Gerelmaa highlighted that her profession requires constant growth and capacity building. Together with her colleagues, she is keen to discuss common issues faced in their respective khoroos and collectively comes up with solutions to prevent violence and protect the well-being of their residents. Gerelmaa admitted that her heavy workload and the harsh working conditions she must face have led her to think about giving up. But even during those times of desperation, the thought of keeping at least one child safe, or helping one family gain a stable income motivated her to keep working to bring forth these positive changes in the lives of her community members.