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Faces of the Gobi

Mongolia, November 25, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    The Gobi Desert - which literally translates as "gravel-covered plain" in the Mongolian language - is Asia's largest, covering nearly all of southern Mongolia and a significant portion of northern China. Due to extreme weather conditions and vast distances, there are very few permanent roads that traverse the Gobi, making travel and trade very difficult. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Tsong, 29, received a loan through Mercy Corps and now owns and operates the "Sartus" auto repair shop and parts store. He also mentors other young entrepreneurs in the area around his hometown of Mandalgovi. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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    This sprawling neighborhood on the outskirts of Mandalgovi illustrates how the nomadic lifestyle is colliding with urban culture. Traditional herder houses called gers are situated within makeshift fences, a stark counterpoint with the openness and freedom of the vast Mongolian steppes. Thousands of nomad families have had to relocate to cities to find jobs and make ends meet. Photo:
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    Dolgorsuren, pictured here with her niece, is part of a local Female Lawyer's Association in the city of Mandalgovi. The association - supported by Mercy Corps' Training Advocacy and Networking (TAN) program - offers free legal assistance to area residents. They recently helped more than 2,000 residents of 22 local apartment buildings form an tenant's association that bought the buildings and are now making them safer and more habitable. Photo:
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Khuukhenmunch runs a veterinary service in Mandalgovi. She's responsible for the health of more than 2,000 animals in the area, and estimates she treats at least 80,000 each year. Mercy Corps is helping her manage and expand her business through loans and technical training. She was the first veterinarian to start a private practice in Mongolia after the collapse of communism in the early 1990s. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Herding is family tradition dating back many centuries. This young boy, a grandson of master herder Tumurchuluun, watches the flock. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Errdentsetseg runs the Govin Jiguur dairy company with her daughter Batuul in the southern Mongolian city of Dalanzadgad. They sell camel milk, yogurt and various cheese products. One of their specialities is "airag", or fermented mare's milk. They've received loans and technical advice from Mercy Corps, get their milk from more than 50 herding families and have five full-time employees. They recently got recognition as one of Mongolia's top 100 consumer products at a regional trade fair. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Bactrian camels, called "temee" in the Mongolian language, are critical to the nomadic lifestyle and local economies. The Bayanzag herder group has 250 camels, which provide milk and wool that are sold and made into finished products. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    The Altan Govii Shiree cooperative is located in one of southern Mongolia's most scenic areas - near the Bayanzag, or Flaming Cliffs. Its tourism business has been supported by Mercy Corps since 2003. The cooperative now has 10 gers that accommodate about 500 tourists each year, raising the fortunes of vulnerable herding families in the area. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Altantsetseg, 34, owns an auto repair shop in the city of Arvaikheer. Mercy Corps-sponsored loans and technical training helped her fulfill a vision she'd had since she was a little girl working on cars alongside her father. Today the shop has seven full-time employees. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mrs. Badamkhamd, 50, is a master sewer in the city of Tsetserleg. Working with Mercy Corps' TAN program, she has taken several unemployed local women on as apprentices, helping them gain valuable work skills that will support their families and grow the local economy. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    The Zurgaan Egshig cooperative, located in a verdant valley not far from the city of Tsetserleg, grows a variety of fruits and vegetables for local markets. With help from Mercy Corps, they've adapted their business to Mongolia's extreme weather conditions by using a local hot spring to keep their greenhouses at a consisent warm temperature. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

Here are some of the people and landscapes that writer Roger Burks and photographer Thatcher Cook encountered on a two-week, 1,600 mile journey over Mongolia's deserts, mountains and steppes.