That Thing That She Does: Houses, cares for & educates Mongolian babes, and feeds the neighborhood in her spare time…
When Australian-born Didi Kalika arrived in Mongolia in 1993, she planned to teach yoga and meditation. Her true calling, though, wasn’t in the studio, but on the streets, in the form of homeless children who wandered the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, sleeping down in the steaming sewers during the freezing winter months. First, she brought them into her city apartment to take baths, rest, eat a meal, or have a wound mended. But the flat got crowded, so Didi moved everyone into a small wooden shelter and ger in a poor neighborhood in the outskirts of town.
Since then, hundreds of children — some orphaned, some abandoned, many abused — have been left in Didi’s care. Aided by a couple stalwart helpers, Didi is still the tireless backbone of the shelter, never taking a vacation and rarely leaving the country except to fundraise. If a baby is sick, she stays up to provide care. If a child reaches up her arms as Didi passes by, she automatically picks her up in a big hug. She’s recently, through donations, built a bigger house and a school taught by a kindergarten teacher provided by the British Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO).
Didi’s largesse extends to the community as well — she runs a soup kitchen for the people in her poverty-stricken neighborhood, and plans to offer teacher training.
Her house is warm, joyful, functioning chaos. If you walk in, a child will automatically be handed to you, maybe two. These kids shouldn’t be happy — many have come from very, very bad situations. But against all odds, they are well-adjusted and lovely.
Word from Didi:
Who do you think is a diva?
“I have always admired my aunty Irleen,” writes Didi, “who is a nun with the Sisters of Mercy. She spent most of her life in service of others, and particularly concentrated on education for the underprivileged in Australia.”
Didi says another standout is Jenny Samways, a UK resident who is living in Mongolia. “At the age of 50, she began her life again,” writes Didi. “She is also involved in educating children with a great spirit to help others…she worked with the teenagers in our home and has kept contact with them, continuing to encourage them in many ways. She possesses an energy of happiness and excitement. She always sees the good in situations, and brings people together in a positive helpful way.”
It naturally involves one of her kids.
“Recently, one of our children, who seemed to be crippled for life, took her first step,” Didi recalls, adding that this advance was due to the ministrations of the staff and teens at the shelter, who continually got the little girl lovingly on her feet. “Now, even though it is slow for her, this little girl who used to sit and cry and scream with frustration is walking about the home and outside. She is able to keep up with the other children, and her future seems full of possibilities that were missing before.”
To help her teens become self-sufficient, Didi wants to build a bakery and start a small cooperative for them to manage and run.
How do you cure a bad day?
“I may pause for a while,” Didi reflects, “then look for the positive ways I can spend my time. Usually by playing with the smallest children, who are full of life and happy. It is also good to keep hope, and remember that bad days only last a few more hours. They do end!”
Favorite mode of travel?
No contest — it’s the train. “It gives me time to readjust to the next situation and to let go of all that’s been happening in the place I’m leaving,” she says. “I like to look out the window and watch the countryside slowly roll past.”
To inquire about donating to the shelter, you can .
Divas du Jour
- Cruising Crusader
- Hong Kong Hostess
- Finnish Folk Maestra
- Ice Princess
- war poet
- Green Goddess
Ana Paula Machado Mendes dos Reis
- Welcoming Woman
- Truckin' Queen
- Prima(tologist) Diva
- Street Angel