"Should I save or savor the world?"

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world.

This makes it hard to plan the day.

E.B. White

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dhay phe-paa thu-je chhe!

The title of this blog post is Tibetan: "Thanks for coming here!" and is among one of the many phrases that I am learning in preparation for March. Many thanks to Willy Oppenheim for providing "Say It In Tibetan," by Norbu Chophel.

If you are new to the blog, thank you for reading, and be sure to read further via the links to older posts on the right-hand side of the page.

The first fundraiser for Golok Sengcham Drukmo (GSD) is set for February 22, 2009 from 6pm-10pm at the Wescustogo Hall in North Yarmouth, Maine. It is a Contra Dance and Silent Auction to fund my remaining travel costs, generate a donation to the home, and fund the recently created scholarship for the girls at GSD. This is going to be a fun and lively evening filled with excellent music by local artists who have generously donated their time and talent to this cause.

Lots of thanks to Fred White, Sandy Davis, Jeff Raymond, Julia Plumb, and Doug Protsik who are the musicians and caller (Doug) for the dance, and have provided me with helpful advice for the planning and facilitation of this event.

I am heading out into the greater Brunswick area this
week and next to ask for item donations for the silent auction; if you or your business are interested in gifting an item, please let me know (gmwilgus@gmail.com).

Other features at the Dance & Auction will include a raffle and the sale of original Tibetan clothing items.

Buy your tickets at the door: $8/person, children under 15/free; family and first-time dancer friendly! Refreshments will be provided.

I am advertising this event on all the local network television stations, The Dance Gypsy, online community calendars, local newspapers and newsletters, and in local businesses. Tell your friends and bring your dancing shoes; this will be a really fun night!

On another note, February 12, I will be presenting to the Friends of Curtis Memorial Library (CML) a proposal concerning the specific implications of their partnership with the fledgling library at GSD. I am preparing for this meeting with the help of Liz Doucett, the director of CML, who has been great to work with. In preparation for this meeting, I am answering the following questions:
1.) How many books per year will CML send?
2.) Is there an appropriate space for holding the books?
3.) Will money be allotted to the care and upkeep of th
e books?
4.) Will this be a sustainable relationship between GSD a
nd CML?

The Book Swap Project (separate from CML) is now under way with Susie Knowles' 5th Grade Class at Longfellow School in Brunswick. I presented the plan to the class on Monday, and sent a letter for approval home to the parents. The kids seem excited to start writing pages for the book based on topics of their school day.

I still have yet to nail down a publisher, but have several promising connections, one of which I'm sure will be solvent.

On the topic of connections, this month has been full of meeting new people and establishing relationships that are already proving to be enriching in more ways than one.

I was in California during the week of Jan 12 visit
ing a school in Carlsbad who flew me and another Omprakash volunteer (Vance Walstra, Peru) out to talk to their students about self-designing philanthropic projects. The Pacific Ridge School advocates that the students, during the last three weeks of their senior year, self-design and implement a project that will create a link between two communities while garnering interest for the student's chosen place of service.

While there, I made several connections with different students and educators that are really exciting to me. Students: Anisha with Otesha, the girls for VOICE, Chiara, David, and various other self-motivated service learning students with great ideas for projects. Educators: Steve Le, Namir Yedid, Scott Silk, Merle O'Neill, and Todd Burckin from Pacific Ridge, Teanna Evans from Calavera Middle School and the rest of faculty at Pacific Ridge were all very interested in bringing the world to the classroom through dynamic means and with an attitude for service.

Steve Le's eighth grade service learning team at PRS fund-raised to buy a Flip camera for me to document my time in Tibet in video format; many thanks to the PRS eighth-graders for this wonderful gift.

Ari, a student at PRS, is working with fellow students to write a book teaching the Tibetan girls how to play baseball, and will be fundraising to send baseball gloves, bats, and baseballs along with me to Tibet for the girls at GSD. Good luck to Ari and his peers.

Good neighbor and friend, David Barter, is in the process of pushing a proposal up through the ranks of his company to ask for 10 laptop computers as a donation to GSD. Thank you, Dave!

I spoke with members of the Tibetan Women's Association and hope to establish a connection between the Tibetan Women's Leadership Program and GSD. I also spoke with CEDAW, Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Canada Tibet Committee to see if they have any suggestions for me and for broadening the reach of my project.

I emailed Nicholas Kristof, well-known journalist of the New York Times, whose interest in women's issues prompted me to ask him to write an article about the Golok Sengcham Drukmo Home, in order to raise interest and awareness about education as a means to tackle the problem of the marginalization of women in Tibet and greater Asia.

I created a profile on YouthActionNet in preparation to apply for their fellowship when it opens on February 15, and have found myself receiving emails from peers-- Moses from Sierra Leone and Peter from Zimbabwe who are passionate about changing the world. I am interested in hearing more about their projects and I'm sure that what I learn from each of them will be inspiring stimulus for thought.

Approximately 65 letters went on their way earlier this week to friends and family all across the US, raising awareness for the project and asking for funding to complete my travel costs and donate to GSD.

Other providers of invaluable support include my family members (especially Mom and Dad,) Rick Wilson at Brunswick High School, my boyfriend Sam Read, and best friends Julia Knowles, Alyson McDonough and sister, Madeleine, who will always be my number one proof-reader for these blog posts.

It's also amazing to see just how much networking can happen while making conversation with friends and acquaintances, old and new. Thank you to everyone who has provided me with invaluable tips and anecdotes, keep them coming!

I received my first stack of beginner English books from a student at Bowdoin College; those books are sitting on top of a box full of Tibetan clothing items that will be for sale at the fund raising events. Thank you to Dockpo Tra (founder and director of GSD) for providing me with the clothing.

On my "to do" list:

-Continue working towards a second fundraiser event, a Movie and Discussion Night with a simultaneous book drive. The Tibetan Women's Association has graciously donated the documentary movie "Voices In Exile," which would be a great generator of discussion; there is also a movie out there called "Daughters Of Everest," which is a story about four Tibetan and Chinese women who were the first women to scale Everest, and is a great microcosm of women rising to the top in the face of extreme barriers. Hopefully, this event will become a reality, and I look forward to the good discussion it will generate.

-I would like to contact Stephanie Goodell and Michelle Lepore with Tibetan Women Leadership Programs to obtain a tool called the "Wellness Wheel" that is designed to give young Tibetan woman a holistic sense of their personal well-being, instead of measuring themselves by the standards of a society that is largely in favor of marginalizing women.

-Dockpo Tra, the founder and director of GSD, has a business plan in mind to build a hotel near the home in Tibet, the income of which will provide for the expansion of GSD to incorporate 70 more girls, creating a total inhabitancy at the home of 100 girls. With his permission, I would like to help Dockpo obtain a small business grant to get the building of the hotel started. I did a little research into the Gates Foundation, and think we may have an option there, but I need to do some more digging.

On a personal note, there is now little over a month between now and my departure on March 9 for Tibet. Mixed feelings? Yes, but I am much more anticipatory than not, and trying to keep a cap on assumptions or projections of what life will be like in Tibet. I know only this: it will be the culture shock of a lifetime. Please continue to send emails, letters, and well-wishes, it is such a delight to receive them.

I have a couple doctor's appointments this month to receive vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever and Rabies. I don't have to receive a Malaria vaccination as I will be living at 13,000 feet above sea level, and at a climate that is too cold for the Tsetse fly, the carrier of the Malaria disease, to survive.

I am in the process of applying for my Chinese Visa, which will permit me to travel in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is in China.

And yes, as per the title of this post, I am beginning my foray into the Tibetan language which is proving much less difficult than I previously thought, due largely to the book Willy gave me.

More updates to come as they arrive, like the status of my proposals for sponsorship to LL Bean and The North Face, as well as a request for donation to the scholarship fund from the McKeen Center For Common Good on the Bowdoin College campus.

On an esoteric note, I just finished re-reading an old favorite, "The Sun Also Rises," by Ernest Hemingway, and I include this quote as a call to arms for everyone who is of a similar mindset, and to those who are not, from Hemingway's character Robert Cohn;

"'Listen, Jake,' he leaned forward on the bar. 'Don't you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you're not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you've lived half the time you have to live already?'"

Monday, January 5, 2009

An Introduction and Welcome

Dear Friend,

My name is Geneva Wilgus, and I live with my family in Mid Coast Maine. I am taking this year "on," between my sophomore and junior years, in order to pursue some different interests. I attended Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio after recruitment to their nationally ranked debate team. After two years, I withdrew and came home to Maine, and began coaching debate at my alma mater Brunswick High School as well as substitute teaching for the Brunswick district. I also volunteer with Rick Wilson at Brunswick High School for the Service Learning classes and work with a few other independent projects.

This year has provided me with clarity and vision, and I am realizing more about myself than I ever did on a college campus. While in the process of transferring schools, I am also switching majors from Political Communication to Education, possibly pursuing a degree in high school English from Goddard College in Vermont.

Beyond the physical plans, I am re-dedicating myself to the philosophy that everyone should serve, in one aspect or another and am thus planning a three-month stay at the Golok Sengcham Drukmo Home for Girls in the Qinghai Province, Tibet, China, beginning in early March, ending in early June. This blog is dedicated to the before, during and after of this trip, and I encourage you to stay connected with me through this journey. I will always be available to talk should you have comments, concerns, advice, anecdotes or if you would like to volunteer in a similar aspect. If you are a student and would like to base a service project around this trip, I am excited for you and invite you to contact me so I can hear your ideas.

My email is gmwilgus@gmail.com; please don't hesitate to contact me.

Thank you, friend, for reading.


Who You Are and How You Help

There will be a numerous amount of people following this blog, and I'd like to highlight each group in order to address their purpose and involvement. This will change as the preparation moves forward, and this certainly is not an exhaustive list.


Regardless of which category you fall in to, any support you can provide will be immeasurable. Whether you send money, books, academic supplies or simply remain in touch through the blog or email, your support means that you care about this international initiative and the furthering of education everywhere.

If you would like to send money, make your check out to the Omprakash Foundation so that your donation will be tax deductible. The priority for the allocation of funds is as follows:

1.) I still need $400 to complete my travel costs.
2.) After I have raised the $400, all other donations will go to the benefit of the home. Whatever is raised beyond the $400 will be generously matched by the Omprakash Foundation, up to $1,500.
3.) If you prefer to donate specifically to my travel costs, Golok Sengcham Drukmo, or the scholarship fund, please indicate that in the "Memo" of the check. Make all checks out to "The Omprakash Foundation" so that you can claim your tax deduction.
4.) Mail all checks/donations to:

Geneva Wilgus

21 Main Rd.
Phippsburg, ME 04562


Participating in this project:

-Elementary School Students: Susie Knowles' fifth-grade classroom of Longfellow Elementary will not only be participating in the book swap project (full description under the "Project Narrative" posting) but they will be following the path of their books as they influence these 30 school girls in Tibet. As with all participating schools, this will build a bridge from one classroom to another as we proceed with the ideal that the potential for education is not bound by international borders.

-Pacific Ridge School Students: This new, progressive school located in Carlsbad, CA will be following the journey, as some students complete independent projects associated with the trip.

-Brunswick High School Students: The members of Rick Wilson's Service Learning classes at Brunswick High School will be following the blog, and perhaps gearing their required service hours and/or Independent Service Project towards the benefit of the home.

-Curtis Memorial Library is excited to begin moving towards partnership with GSD, and will stay in touch with the home long after I am back in the States. This blog will serve as a supplement to what I'm sure will be a long-lasting relationship. I will be able to report on the uses and benefits of the partnership, in every capacity.

-Individual donors who have given either to the scholarhip fund, to my travel costs, or to Golok Sengcham Drukmo, will remain interested in my particular experience, the details of how their donations are used, and how the education of these girls proceeds.

-The Omprakash Foundation will be remaining in very close contact with me, as I am now a happy representative of the organization. I am responsible for maintaining the good name of Omprakash and will be the eyes and ears of many different people groups across the world as we take a look in to the life and education of another culture.

-Friends and Family will be intently following my journey simply because they know me and care about my well-being. To them, I say thank you for your interest and concern, I will be sure to provide as much detail as I can.


To anyone who has stumbled across this blog, I say Welcome! Stop back in, send me an email, I will always be happy to talk about this project both now, during and after.


Take some time to glance at the foundation that is making this trip possible:

The Omprakash Foundation: www.omprakash.org

They have awarded me a $1,000 grant to help defray cost of travel. This organization is educational and truly committed to a humble spirit of international service.


The Golok Sengcham Drukmo Home for Girls is located in the Qinghai Province of Tibet, China. They have a blog that you should take a look at:


and here is their page on the Omprakash website:


Dockpo Tra has dedicated himself to the care of these 30 young girls, and is providing them with the tools to become active and empowered in a society that can be entirely oppressive and geared towards the marginalization of women.


The Tibetan Women's Association: http://www.tibetanwomen.org/

Should you be interested to read more about the specific region in Tibet where I will be living, or if you have questions about the political situation, I have found these websites to be helpful:

This is the standard CIA World Factbook website that provides invaluable information about geography, economy, political situation, religion etc:


The Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions are something I studied in my Inter-Cultural Communications class at Cedarville University, and I have maintained using this source because of its unique analysis for the reasons behind cultural differences:


The next two links talk about basic customs, travel tips, climate, vaccinations, diet, etc.



Here's a great article from National Geographic:



I will continue to update this post with other sources as I tackle my reading list.

Project Narrative

Omprakash Foundation: Project Narrative

-Location: Golok Sengcham Drukmo Home for Girls, Qinghai Province, Tibet, China

-Timing and Duration: March 1, 2009 – June 1, 2009 (Three months total)

-Focus of service: Teaching English, Geography, Personal Hygiene, general care of thirty girls

Description of the mission of the organization I will be working with:

The “biggest dream” of the GSD Home is “to enable every Tibetan girl to get an education. Then they will be able to stand up and choose whatever they want to do in their life. Until that day, we won’t stop working.” GSD provides thirty impoverished and disenfranchised girls with:

  • An education, emphasis on literacy
  • A loving home, quality health care and career options
  • The tools to become an empowered woman, rather than a subservient household figure

Type of service I will be doing and the issue I will be addressing through the service:

-Maria, the co-director of the home, has asked me to teach the girls English, Geography, personal hygiene, and be flexible in terms of the other tasks that will present themselves. I am prepared to work hard at all service that will be needed at this home.

Additionally: As I prepare to volunteer in March, there are a couple different things I am working on to supplement this process.

-I am investigating a partnership with the Tibetan Women's Association, more specifially with their Tibetan Women Leadership Program (TWLP) in the hopes that some of the older girls from GSD can attend the leadership program. TWLP also has unique ideas for self-improvement (in terms of quality of life) for young Tibetan women, and I would love to implement some of their ideas. I have also contacted the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

-Longfellow Elementary School, Susie Knowles' 5th Grade Class will be writing a book (each student providing a page) about a typical American school day. I will have this book published, hopefully through charitable donation of a publisher, or through my fundraising efforts. I will bring copies of this book with me to the home in Tibet and share it with the girls there. Then, the girls in Tibet will do the same, I will publish it upon my return (same procedure and company), and use that book to share with the Longfellow classroom, as well as to raise awareness about the GSD Home. Copies of each book will be given to the community library (Curtis Memorial), as well as to all local, participating school libraries. Books will also be available for sale (or free with suggested donation), with all proceeds going to the GSD Home.
I have established a great rapport with this 5th grade class as I was their long-term substitute teacher while Mrs. Susie Knowles was out with neck surgery. Mrs. Knowles and I are also planning on maintaining contact while I am in Tibet, (through blog, and maybe video chat depending on technological capabilities) so that her classroom will see this other culture and these other school children, as well as the results of their book.
-I have created the Brunswick Scholarship fund for the post-secondary plans and education of girls at GSD.
-Curtis Memorial Library has most graciously agreed to become the partner to the fledgling library at GSD, and I am excited to participate in an upcoming Friends of Curtis Library board meeting in order to discuss the details of that relationship. It will, at the very least, involve the annual donation of children's books to the GSD Library.

-I am planning book drives, book swaps, movie and discussion nights, and other similar activities in order to boost the amount of educational material at the home.
-Beyond those particular project initiatives, I will be writing letters, hosting dinners and using all resources in my grasp to talk to people about this home and raise funds to donate for the good of the home.