An Inside Look with Selenge Tserendash: Empowering Mongolian Women through Quilting
Selenge Tserendash participates in a session of the 2014 MRP
It was day 3 of the 2014 Market Readiness Program™ and the presentations had adjourned for the evening. By 5:00 pm, the hallways of the Javits Center no longer provided the fervor of exhibitors selling their crafts nor buyers roaming the exhibits that was commonplace throughout the day. A few MRP participants stayed behind to prepare for presentations of their crafts but many had also left, still adjusting to their long journey to New York. Aid to Artisans sat down with Selenge Tserendash to find out more about her and the work she does. Behind her reserved presentation, lays a woman full of passion for the cause of women and families in her native country of Mongolia.
Residing between the southern and northern borders of Russia and China, respectively, the country of Mongolia has been in a state of transition since the democratic revolution that took place there in 1990. In this country with an estimated population of 2.9 million people, the political and social shift from a socialist to democratic state left many without adequate resources for their specific economic needs.
As a single mother, attorney Selenge Tserendash recognized the need for additional economic opportunities for one of the country’s most vulnerable groups: single women raising families by themselves.
This is where Selenge Tserendash’s story of social work begins.
What inspired you to start New Way Life NGO Mongolian Quilting Center?
“10 years ago, I was inspired to do this after I studied English in Seattle and I saw beautiful quilts, which is traditional in America. Of course, I came back to Mongolia and saw the needs of unemployed women. I was asked to work as a lawyer in the [Mongolian] Supreme Court, but I’m a single mother and at the time, there was a big crisis in Mongolia. People said that there were a lot of unemployed women who were experiencing difficulties, especially single mothers who are raising children by themselves and I thought, what can I do for the Mongolian women?”
After consulting with a friend, a plan was put into motion.
“I sent many emails to lots of quilting societies, teachers and designers,” explained Tserendash, “I sent out over 100 emails to all over the [United] States.”
Eventually, one of her impassioned emails caught the attention of Maggie Ball, a renowned quilter and author who lives on the West Coast. Over the span of 18 months, Quilters Without Borders, an organization headed by Ball, was successfully able to raise $80,000 to help the newly established New Way Life NGO Mongolian Quilting Center (NWL-NGO) purchase a space for instruction in the city of Ulaanbaatar. Ball travelled to Mongolia and in her initial meeting with the NWL-NGO, over 1000 women participated in learning how to sew and quilt.
Since then, the NWL-NGO has supported hundreds of women and their families, promoting economic growth and sustainability in the community while encouraging the use of traditional Mongolian patterns. Tserendash recognized the potential for growth for Mongolian handcrafts through entry into the US market and through a friend, was introduced to Aid to Artisans and the Market Readiness Program™ (MRP). The 4 ½ day program provides intensive preparation for entry into the US market and vital information for building successful export businesses. The information proved useful for Tserendash.
A quilt made from artisans who work with NWL-NGO
What was your experience with the Market Readiness Program™?
“ATA and Creative Learning programs are a great opportunity to promote any culture, traditional culture, into the US market. I’m so grateful to ATA and Creative Learning for giving us the opportunity to promote Mongolian handmade crafts.”
What did you learn during the MRP?
“We need to do lots of things such as product development, marketing, finding sponsor, etc. In regards to where we are in comparison with other projects, it was kind of a shock at first. However, I decided to not give up. I will work hard to find grants and other ways to support the project as well as network to help develop our products.”
Tserendash receives a certificate for completing the MRP
What is next for NWL-NGO?
“We are continuing our workshop for unemployed women in collaboration with the [Mongolian] Ministry of Social Welfare and Labour Office. Now I am creating a plan for our future goals because after the [MRP] program, I realized that we needed to change our business plan.”
With the passion and drive Tserendash has for the cause of women, the future certainly looks bright for her and the NWL-NGO.