For thousands of years Mongolian men have ridden horses, lived in remote gers (traditional felt tents) in the countryside, and looked after their families and herds of animals. However as Mongolia has developed, with particularly rapid growth in the last two decades, the role of the man has been evolving as well. Unfortunately, it is leaving many men lost in a free market economy where they are unemployed and wondering about their next step. How do we encourage men during difficult times, especially if they are unemployed?

One answer we arrived at as a community is to recognize the unsung heroes – the amazing men who are good fathers, regardless of income or professional status. In Mongolia and throughout the world unemployment can lead to many societal problems like alcoholism and domestic violence, but there are also many stay-at-home dads who are remarkable fathers and receive little credit for the time they spend with their children. Awesome Sukhbaatar, the first Awesome Foundation chapter in Mongolia, decided that we wanted to change that.

The Good Father Project

We created the Good Father Project, or Sain Aav Tosol in Mongolian, to acknowledge the wonderful fathers in our small community in the eastern steppe of Mongolia. The Good Father Project is founded on the idea that by recognizing these men we can honor, support and empower them as they raise their children and support their families.

To start, our community team felt that the best people to nominate Good Fathers were their children. So we worked with the local schools in our province to host an essay competition led by the Department of Education. We advertised our competition with free local television airtime, advertisements in the town square, and with the help of teachers who explained the contest to each classroom in their schools. Then, we waited as the essays poured in.

Each essay began with “My father is a good father because…” and our young writers did the rest. They explained the sacrifices and challenges that their fathers face daily, spoke to their character and integrity, and much more. We received over 230 essays coming in from all over the province, written by students from first grade all the way to college, often including drawings, poems, and even photographs of their fathers. One photo in particular had a note attached that read, “Please return this photo to me, it’s the only photo I have of my father and it’s very special.”

The idea was simple and became a very popular concept in our community the first time we mentioned it. We spoke to the leaders of our provincial government early on and gained their support, and we also gained financial support from a local family run business that will continue to support the program in years to come. We kept costs low and relied on volunteer support throughout the advertisement, collection and review of all the essays.

In fact, we were even able to garner the support of ten outstanding men from the community to interview our finalists and choose the final 10 award winners for our first year. This special Selection Committee included some of the most respected men in our community including the vice governor, directors, businessmen, the police chief, and exceptional stay-at-home dads.

The Big Day

On June 1st 2012, International Children’s Day, our 10 Good Father Award Winners, 25 Finalists and 100 Best Essay writers received awards and recognition in front of the entire community. Their essays were also displayed all day for the festival attendees to read before the award winners were announced.

The 2012 Good Fathers included the mayor of a local village, a herdsman who traveled hours into town to receive his award, local business owners, stay-at-home dads, and a local writer from a distant village. The men were visibly proud to receive the new award, holding their awards under their arms as they hugged their children and families when they were invited onstage to join them. If you’d like to see all the fun pictures from that day, please click here.

The Heart of The Award

The idea behind the Good Father Project, and the next step for our Award Winners from this year, is to provide the fathers with support to create Good Father Clubs throughout our province. These small groups will be places where men can talk about fatherhood and plan activities to do with their children. And if they need financial support for projects, they can apply for grants through Awesome Mongolia and Awesome Sukhbaatar, which award prizes every month. Also, as their final duty next summer the Good Fathers from this year will be responsible for selecting next year’s Good Father award recipients and helping the movement grow.

We are proud to be able to recognize and support the wonderful fathers who are engaged in our community and more importantly to inspire other fathers as well. It’s our hope that all men, from stay-at-home dads to government officials, have the resources they need to be good fathers. And as you might have noticed, we didn’t call this the Best Father competition. As the project grows there is no limit to how many people can win. A Good Father is something we think every man can become and that’s exactly what we all hope - that each of the kids in our province can stand up and proudly say, “My father is a Good Father.

This article was first posted on Advance Humanity.