Community Support Lessons from Nomadic Herders in Mongolia

Nomadic herders- Mongolia

When I went to Mongolia I was quite impressed with the nomadic herders that I met in the Gobi Desert. I learned a lot from them and how the nomadic herders in an area all work together as a support system for their small community.

As I stayed with Mongolian nomadic herders in the Gobi Desert, they taught me many lessons about how important it is for us all to have a community that we can depend upon when we need help. Some of the important lessons I learned was about our working together as a group, and supporting our neighbors while also building a support team that will always be there for us – especially in time of need. But for this to work we must be willing to serve in our communities as we strive to work together. It is always best if we can all have a support group of like-minded individuals.

Camels in the Gobi Desert
Camels in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

The community of Mongolian nomadic herders

Mongolia is a landlocked country in East Asia that is sandwiched between Russia, China and Kazakhstan. Mongolia has 1,564,116 square kilometers (603,909 square miles).it is also the 18th largest country in the world but the most sparsely populated sovereign state in the world with a population of about 3,000,000 people with about half of the population living in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. This sparsity of the population also allows gives the nomadic herders lots of land and wide-open spaces where their herds can roam.

Because of this, any place outside Ulaanbaatar is pretty remote with small towns and limited services. I did not see any electricity in the countryside, as the Mongolia nomadic herders I stayed with used solar panels to give them some electricity.

When I went to the Gobi Desert I stayed in a traditional Mongolian ger or yurt as they are known. I got up early in the morning and was sitting outside to take in the magnificent view of the desert and the other landscape.

The night before we had met one of the nomadic herders’ neighbors as he came into the yurt to share the evening meal with the family we were staying with. They all seemed to be very close and I discovered that the Mongolian nomadic herders would move with their herds about 4 times a year and generally they would move as a community with other nomadic herders and their families.

This community lived close to each other but not as close as some neighborhoods in many places in the world. The closest nomadic herder I saw was about a mile down the road.

So on this morning as I was looking at the sunrise and looking out at the nature of the Gobi Desert and the two camels that were sitting outside, I began to see a lot of commotion taking place. Nomadic herders I had not seen before were coming by on their dirt bikes and there was a kind of gathering of sorts going on.

The herders would come and then go off on their dirt bikes. Another would get on a camel and go riding off. When my English speaking guide finally got up that morning, I asked him what all the commotion was. Why was there a group of nomadic herders at our camp?

We both discovered that the nomadic herder family we were staying with had called his other herder friends and ask them to come to find his camels. He had over 50 camels out in the desert that he could not find. Camels, unlike some other animals, did not travel in one large pack and so they needed the help of their neighbors to find all of them.

So his nomadic herder community had left their own herds to help our host find his camels. You see the next day he needed all 50 of his camels as he had a large group coming to ride the camels.

I also discovered that this kind of service was not unusual. These Mongolian nomadic herders lived in a very harsh climate where the winters could be especially cold and brutal. They depended on each other and their small nomadic communities for their very survival and the survival of their herds. They were in a community so that they could help each other and to support one another.

I thought about this and my own life and how important it is for all of us to have a community or group that we can depend on. A group that helps us in our time of need. Someone that we can help when they need help or they can help us when we need help. But for this kind of support to work, it must have reciprocity in that every member of the group must be willing to do their part and help each other.

I feel there are things that we can all learn from these Mongolian nomadic herders and their willingness to go out and search for the camels that were not even their camels. To help their neighboring herder in his time of need.

Here are some of the lessons we can all learn about community support:

Lesson 1 – Work together as a group

These Mongolia nomadic herders teach us that when we work together as a group we can accomplish so much more than if they try to go at it alone. I am not sure how my nomadic herding family would have been able to find all his camels on his own. But as he had a group of other experienced herders he could call upon to help, he was able to find them quite quickly. I also understood that he had first tried to find them all on his own, but was not able to find them by himself.

There is great power in all of us striving to work together as a group and to help each other. By working together we can help to share the load, so to speak, and also share the work. I love this quote by Mother Teresa:

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.“

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa is trying to teach us all that if try to do our part in our community then together great things can happen. One person alone cannot change the world, but we can all be that small pebble that allows a ripple effect to happen. For great things to happen we must all work together.

Lesson 2 – Support your neighbor

One of the great lessons with this is that these nomadic herders were willing to support their neighbor in his time of need. They came when they were asked and I am sure they sacrificed time away from their own herds and their own things that they needed do that day. But they knew that their neighbor needed them and their help.

Coretta Scott King eloquently said:

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

Coretta Scott King

A community is only as good as its members that are in the community. If we stick to ourselves and we refuse to help any of our neighbors then our life will not only be lonely but also one of disappointment and filled with loneliness. Though these nomadic herders were far out in the middle of nowhere they also knew that they needed to support their neighbors.

Nomad's Dirt Bikes - Mongolia
The Mongolian Nomad’s dirt bike in the Gobi Desert.

Lesson 3 – Build a support group of like-minded individuals.

These herders were maybe not related to each other, but they all had similar goals and desires so for them to form their community was easy. Mongolia has extremely cold winters which are usually sub-zero temperatures. This can drop even colder in the nighttime. In these extreme winter weather conditions, a nomadic herder could freeze to death or his herder will freeze and die. He needs his community to be there for his very survival and the survival of his herds as most the herds literally roam the countryside without any fences or barns.

The family we stayed with had lost over 30 horses during one very brutally cold winter. You can read our blog entitled 5 Lessons in Grit and Preserverence From Nomadic Herders in Mongolia, by clicking here. You can read about some lessons on resilience and grit from the Mongolian nomadic herders.

When your community cares about the same things, then they also usually care about you, – there is great power in that. Margeret J Wheatley said:

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”

Margaret J. Wheatley

Lesson 4 – Sacrifice for another

The neighboring nomadic herders came out to find the camels for our host Mongolian nomadic family. But from what I saw, this kind of support, help, and sacrifice was normal for them. They told us that they support each other a lot as they simply depend on each other. As Herman Melville has said:

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men“

 Herman Melville

It is those thousands of fibers that connect us all when we realize that to live in this world we need other people. And many times we need help from other people for us to survive and thrive in this world.

Lesson 5 – Collective brilliance, the power of being together

As I looked at these Mongolian nomadic herders this is the thought that crossed my mind that despite our differences, we all need each other. The Mongolian herders taught me there is great power in our being together.

There is great power when teams, organizations or groups all work together to accomplish something great. I have a friend Christine Van Wagenen who has co-authored a book entitled Collective Brilliance: Spark Ideas, Build Faith and See Your Ministry in a Whole New Light., you can buy the book by clicking here. The book speaks of the power of a group collectively working together to accomplish great things. When we collectively get together as a group of individuals, that together we can accomplish so much more with the right team behind us.

I have thought of my Mongolian nomadic herders’ and how they understood this principle. They knew that together they could all work to try to find the camels. Working as a team they were able to accomplish so much more than just individuals trying to do it on their own.

I love this African proverb that says”

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

African Proverb

Together with the right team, we can do so much more than if we are just one person trying it do it on our own. The right group of people can help us to:

  • Encourages our creativity and learning. We can learn a lot from others and their points of view. They may help us to see and understand things we would have otherwise.
  • Blends together our strengths. One in the team may have a strength of where you are weak and vice versa. So this can help to strengthen the entire group.
  • Builds trust. The more we work with that individual the more we build trust with them.
  • Teaches us how to resolve any conflicts. Conflicts can happen with any group, team or organization but working in a group we can learn how to quickly and easily resolve any conflicts.
  • Builds lasting relationships. A good team will help you to be able to build fruitful and lasting relationships.
Camel Riding - Mongolia
Nomad herder riding on a camel, in search of the lost camels in the Gobi Desert Mongolia.

Lesson 6 – Live to serve – serve to live.

One reason I saw this group or team of Nomadic herders working so well together is that none of them were afraid of hard work or service. In fact, I saw the herders come in from their daily work about 8 pm at night after they have rounded up the last of their herd. And when I was up early in the morning they were already up tending to their herds/ I did not see them having a lot of time to rest or relax. They were not afraid to put on their work boots and work or serve another.

When we live our life thinking of how can we serve, great things can happen. We can forget ourselves and our problems. We can reach out to help another. I believe when we have the attitude that we are not afraid of hard work then it gives our life new meaning and new purpose. I love this quote by George Bernard Shaw:

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”

George Bernard Shaw

We can all take this lesson from George Bernard Shaw and also the Mongolian nomadic herders and find a way to live our life so that we spent our days looking for ways to serve and help others along the way in our community.

Imagine how this world would be if every single people on the earth decided to spend just 30 minutes a day, every day to serve and help just one person? Imagine then what a wonderful world we would be living in with all this service taking place. How about if we have an elderly neighbor we go over to their yard and help them mow their grass or shovel the snow off their walk? Or we help someone carry their groceries to their car? Or we help someone who needs help to cross the street? Imagine how this world would be if we all decided to spend even just a few minutes a day serving and helping others.

Conclusion

The Mongolian nomadic herders and their willingness to come to help their neighbors in need to find their lost camels set an example for me in my life. It taught me some valuable lessons about our willingness to help and serve others, but also more than that the power to have a group in our lives that we can always count on to help us when we need help and that we, in turn, can also serve them when they need help.

Related Questions:

Where can I buy the book Collective Brilliance: Spark Ideas, Build Faith and See Your Ministry in a Whole New Light?

You can buy the book directly from the publisher at From the Rooftops Publishing by clicking here. The book is now also available in Spanish. If you have any questions, you can contact Christine Van Wagenen, and tell her Anita sent you, contact Christine by clicking here.

Also on their website, you can see when this group of amazing women will be speaking or holding a workshop. If you are in the area where they will be speaking, it will be worth your time to go to hear them speak.

Why do nomads migrate?

Nomads will migrate or move from place to place so that they can find adequate food and water for their herds and animals. They need to be able to move to the new locations so they can find the best food, water, and climate for their animals.

The Mongolians nomadic herders we stayed with told us that they moved about 4 times a year. So they had a winter, spring, summer and fall camp.

What percent of the Mongolian population is still nomadic herders?

There are about 3 million people in Mongolia. It is estimated that between 25% to 40% are nomadic herders. So this would be 600,000 to 1,200,000 people. That is quite a significant number of people who still live the nomadic lifestyle in Mongolia.

As with my nomadic herding family, I stayed with, many of the herders will bring in extra income by having ger’s or yurts that can be rented to tourists or they will offer camel or horse rides. This helps supplement and in many ways preserve the nomadic lifestyle.

What is the best way to explore Mongolia?

Visiting Mongolia is truly worth the visit. If you are interested in visiting there, please contact Adiyabold at New MIlestone Tours. He can help you with anything you need and help to answer any questions. Tell Adiyabold, that Anita sent you. You can contact New Milestone Tours by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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