New Yorkers have the rare opportunity to see and learn the art of Mongolian felt craft at the American Museum of Natural History this week. Felt craft designer Byambaa Jambal has come from Mongolia to demonstrate her art through presentations and workshops from May 19 to 28. Mercy Corps' Gobi Regional Economic Growth Initiative ("Gobi Initiative") arranged her participation at the invitation of the Festival of Mongolia.
Felt is such an important part of Mongolian society that Mongols have been known as "the people who live in felt tents" since the 12th Century when they conquered most of the known world. Genghis Khan was able to take vast areas because of his military’s might and their astonishing mobility. One reason for that mobility was that they lived in gers (rhymes with "dares"), the traditional round felt tent that can be constructed within an hour.
Many Mongols still live in gers, including almost half of the 650,000 people living in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Gers work in Mongolia because nomadic herders can easily transport them and the layers of thick felt protect against the sub-arctic cold. In Mongolia, temperatures of 40°F below and lower are not uncommon. Felt has many uses besides gers, including boots, carpets, saddlebags, bags for carrying newborn animals, and crafts and toys.
Through the Gobi Initiative's felt craft training workshops in southern Mongolia, Byambaa Jambal helps women and men hone their skills to provide needed income for their families. One such workshop in South Gobi province assisted underemployed women to nearly double their monthly income by selling their crafts to tourists.
The Gobi Initiative assists the people in the Gobi region of southern Mongolia to achieve market-led economic growth and development as the country strives to reach its potential in the global marketplaces. The five-year project began activities in Mongolia in February 1999. It is funded by the US Agency for International Development, and managed by Mercy Corps in partnership with Associates in Rural Development, Pact and Land O’Lakes.