Nomin’s husband died in 2014 due to ongoing alcohol abuse, a common problem amongst the poor in Mongolia. When he got drunk he used to become physically and psychologically violent to Nomin and her oldest son, often beating them badly in front of the three younger children. At this time the family lived in an old shed that the husband used for his carpentry work. The space was cramped and run-down but provided some form of security, and protection from Mongolia’s notoriously harsh winter months.
With nowhere else to go, Nomin felt unable to escape this controlling and destructive relationship and despite desperately wanting to leave she remained with her husband for many years. After her husband passed away the family lost their shed and were forced out onto the streets. Having four children to care for and nowhere to go meant that Nomin had no choice but to take shelter in a stairwell of one of the city’s apartment blocks. The space was tiny and dark but Nomin did her best to make it feel homely for her children. She told us that no matter how poor you are, you can always be clean and maintain your dignity.
During this time Nomin worked three different jobs to provide for her family: she was a caretaker for the apartment block, a cleaner at a nearby hospital and a kindergarten assistant. Her work was physically tiring and paid very little but Nomin never stopped holding on to her dream to one day have enough money to buy a home for her children. After living under the stairs for a couple of years the family moved into a shed belonging to one of their relatives. It was old, dilapidated and provided inadequate insulation from 2015’s particularly harsh winter where temperatures regularly remained below -40°C. The conditions were appalling and lead Nomin to feel increasingly depressed and hopeless about her family’s future together.