My time in artisanal mining sector

I wanted to share the life story of Mrs. Nergui D, a single mother and a member of our NGO.

She was born in 1969. She had a happy childhood in the unconditional love of her parents. After her graduation of 8th grade of high school No. 3 in Bayankhongor in 1985, she went to a forestry vocational training center in Khuvsgul aimag to become a forester and a ranger. She moved to the capital city to start her career at the Department of Forestry at the Research Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Hunting  from1988 to 1993.

In 1994, she worked as a co-ranger for Zaisan Hill. After a year, she returned to her homeland and became a vegetable gardener. She first met her husband in her homeland and they were married in 1997. Following their happy marriage, they have 2 beautiful daughters. Like other herder families, her family had a happy life herding their livestock.  

Today, people have forgotten about the three dzuds that occurred in the dawn of the 21st century, killing large herds. Herders lost their livestock and livelihoods during the dzuds. The dzuds had impacted not only animals, but also people.

These horrible, sudden on-set, natural disasters had affected the young couple who hadn’t had much time to make savings or build any wealth. To them, it was like “Downward, the ground is hard, upward, the sky is far”. “It was a horrible shock, we had no idea what to do, because we had nothing left to feed our kids” she emotionally spoke.

Head of Bayanbumbugur NGO



The dzud affected not only her family, but also many other families in the soums and aimags of Mongolia. For herders who lost all their livestock, there was no other job for them to do. In order to survive, large groups of people were on the move, desperate for usable land, to “Builsan” carrying shovels, green buckets, and rubber gloves to dig the land for gold. Her family had to follow those groups of people as well.

Everywhere in Builsan was over run with campsites, tents/yurts and trucks. Seeing such a beautiful and untouched land being seriously disturbed and unfairly messed up, makes you feel so much regret; however, she, to survive, got caught up in this unfair mess, and had already become one of the “Ninjas” who they are often condemned for the way they seriously disturb the environment.

Miners feel happy and greedy at the same time to dig even more when they find gold daily even though it may be a tiny little piece. In order to survive, people risk death to dig and burrow for gold. Some lost their precious lives due to being buried under the gold dumps while attempting to burrow for gold. Fatal incidents frequently occurred in this land. The numbers of the crowd increased daily including drunken people. “Where have the best of Mongolian men gone? Why have the good behaviour and attitude as well as the language and culture of Mongolian men changed?” she wondered.

Even though she knew things were going wrong, she couldn’t manage to figure out what to do, but was still been mixed up with the crowds. Going back to those days, she remembers and still feels the human violations that frequently occurred.

Numerous people in Builsan land had been physically and psychologically abused or become victims due to a lack of knowledge on how to get organized, cooperate or legally protect themselves from any sort of risks. Every single corner of the area where ninjas existed was as mentioned as above. “I myself am one of the living examples of all those….” Nergui D said in tears. She’s been diagnosed with a serious respiratory disease because of she’s been through difficulties and worked intensively without caring about her own health. She’s become disabled and is now permanently under a medical care since she can no longer work normally as before.  


When the “Bayanbumbugur” NGO was first founded in 2008 with  support from the Sustainable Artisanal Mining project (SAM) of SDC, Nergui was selected as a member of the Steering Committee and is still holding her position. Progressively, we have structured the members of our NGO as a partnership organization.

Every individual has maximized their own duty and responsibility by paying for their health and social insurance, becoming one working team. This is a chapter of our life’s success story.

“I am always grateful for having such great colleagues” Nergui says. “We stick together in the ups and downs of our lives. You never know what comes next into your life”.

Nergui’s husband passed away in 2013 due to an illness, leaving her with two little daughters. Her health condition is also not good, but she always finds enough inner strength to pull herself up and is still working hard for her two girls’ future. 

For a woman who is not wealthy, it must be so hard to make things happen with all those costs of going back and forth in order to get the allowance for her half-orphan children. When life seems unfair to a woman who has become widowed, she had found her human rights based-approach knowledge extremely useful which she had gained through a training course, so she finally got the allowance she was entitled to after approaching the court. There is no doubt that receiving this allowance helps support her livelihood as well as her children’s educational costs.  

Becoming the members of the NGO as responsible artisanal  and small-scale miners brings a positive change in the lives of women miners. Three saving groups were established next to our “Bayanbumbugur” NGO. Mrs. Nergui D is a secretary for one of those three saving groups named “Chandmani-Erdene”. All the members of our NGO have joined a savings group and have successfully taken part in this Project writing competition which was jointly announced by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and World Vision Mongolia. As a result, the authors of the three winning articles each received a five million tugrug budget for projects they want to implement. On top of that, we also successfully implemented our “Skilled Hands” sewing project. Having these projects put into action, we ensured all our members were provided with workplaces and additional income alternatives so that many families can move out of poverty. The members have acquired teamwork skills. Through training courses and workshops, the members have gained sufficient knowledge about human rights.  

“All these are not just because I am good….” Nergui said humbly. With support from the SAM project and the ASM National Federation, we attended many kinds of trainings and gained knowledge of how the people with rights should claim their rights.

“Going back to the old days, we had faced a lot of obstacles and difficulties as “ninja miners” as well as a lack of knowledge about the ASM sector and human rights issues” she expressed her thoughts. Having moved into being a member of an NGO from a “ninja” life, makes it possible for us to secure our own rights to have healthy and safe working conditions, develop environmental-friendly responsible mining, increase our house-hold incomes as well as collaborate with one another to make our voices heard either at the local or national level to ensure our own rights are legally protected. I’d like to emphasize here that she proudly says all the positive outcomes mentioned above definitely come from our miners’ efforts over many years.

When I think of our past, I realize that we already had embraced many challenges and overcome many barriers; we have made a reasonable progress. The unification of the ASM miners now makes it possible for eligible members to participate in the decision making or policy developing processes at local level. We can cooperate with both governmental and non-governmental organizations by encouraging them to reflect a human rights-based approach and gender equality practices in their activities; I do believe that all these will be key factors for the further development of artisanal small-scale miners.