Altruist Mandy Moran grew up in the upscale city of Birmingham, but in 2010, she joined the Peace Corps and lived among villagers in the most rural, underdeveloped parts of Mongolia.
“I was an English teacher,” Moran, a Seaholm High School graduate, said. “I was the only Peace Corps volunteer and the only foreigner in a village of about 3,500.”
Moran lived in a nomadic felt tent called a “yurt” and used a “tumpen” in lieu of a shower.
“A tumpen is kind of like a plastic tub,” she said. “It’s maybe a foot or so deep and a couple feet wide. It was my dishwasher, my washing machine, my bucket and my bathtub.”
Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Moran had begun working for Habitat for Humanity. She traveled to Costa Rica, Columbia, South Africa and Armenia with the organization. The experience helped prepare her for the Peace Corps, but the primitive conditions were initially shocking.
“You’re literally in the elements sleeping outside,” she said. “It taught me to live very efficiently and work smarter, not harder. Every part of your emotional and physical being is challenged.”
The school where Moran taught was a mile from her dwelling and she would often make the trek in pitch-black, frigid conditions.
“It was very basic. We didn’t always have the greatest lighting, and the heat wasn’t always working.”
Oftentimes, students would have to share a desk with one or two other kids. None of the children spoke English. Moran learned Mongolian and managed a classroom of 40 children. Despite the countless obstacles facing her classroom, she never considered her students impoverished.
“I would look at how beautifully they’d interact and share. They were very open and connected with each other,” she said. “I found that they might be missing the material items, but they have what’s important.”
Moran opted to extend her service an extra year in the Peace Corps. She moved to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, where she lived in an apartment and worked at an international development organization.
“I helped give advice on program operations. I served as a cultural translator and I participated in sustainability projects nationwide.”
After three years of service, the Michigan State University alumnus returned home to Birmingham. She worked in advertising for a bit before acting as an apprentice at a Buddhist Zen Center and running a coffee shop and vegan bakery in Detroit.
“I’m going to be moving in a new direction,” she said. “The main thread is that I’m driven by meaningful work.”
Although she has all the amenities to live a comfortable life, she reflects fondly on her challenging experience overseas.
“I miss living in the element and quietness. I miss the deep, deep solitude. You’re really at the mercy of nature. It’s just a hospitable country and culture. You show up anywhere and they welcome you with open arms. They are such people of inspiration and motivation. I aspire to live with that kind of endurance in my own life.”