"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

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel.

You are invited to Geneva's second fundraiser; we'll watch and discuss the movie, Daughters of Everest, at the Curtis Memorial Library, 6-9pm, Thursday, March 5th.

Admission is $5. Original Tibetan clothing articles will be for sale. Movie and following discussion will be in the Morrell Meeting Room.

Daughters of Everest is the story of the first attempt made to summit Everest by five Sherpa women, and represents the all-too-natural marginalization that women in that hemisphere face consistently. This film should provoke some good conversation, and I look forward to watching it with a larger group of interested individuals.

A scene from the "Daughters of Everest"

Thank you to the Cathance River Education Alliance, and Rick Wilson, for purchasing the film and allowing me its use. Also a very warm thank you to Liz Doucett and the Curtis Memorial Library for all of their help and generosity in use of their space.

If you are new to the blog, thanks for reading. Check out the links on the right side of the page for more information and background on my project. As always, don't hesitate to drop me a line: gmwilgus@gmail.com

Well, in eleven days, I depart. I am ready to be on that plane; as much as I love planning, I'm ready to put down the perpetually active cell phone, and the always-over-heated laptop, and start on this long awaited adventure.

The fundraiser dance and auction was well-planned and executed, but unfortunately was impeded by weather on the night of Sunday, February 22 when Mid Coast Maine received such severe weather that over 20,000 people in the state lost power. Regardless, we still had Jeff Raymond, Doug Protsik, and Milo Stanley, as well as a few contra die hards and supportive friends so that the evening still brought in over $500. Thank you to all those who participated!

New donors to the project:

Halcyon Yarn from Bath, Maine, is donating wool, knitting needles, and instructional material to the girls in Tibet. I am looking forward to teaching one of my renewed pastimes, and to sharing with the girls a useful and lovely skill.

Emily, with the Service Learning Team at Pacific Ridge School, is working with fellow students to procure and donate maps, globes, and school material to the girls at the home. Good luck to Emily, and thanks for the good work you are doing!

Sue Townsend, an educator of 5th grade at Wiscasset Elementary has invited me to speak to her class next week, as well as work with her students to generate a book swap project, similar to the Longfellow School book swap. I am looking forward to meeting Sue and her class.

On Tuesday, March 3, I will be learning from June, a book mending volunteer at Curtis Memorial Library, about how to make minor repairs to books in order to increase the longevity of the new library at GSD in Tibet. I am grateful for any new skill I am able to come by; thank you to Curtis Memorial Library and June for making this possible.


As the hourglass empties for the next chapter of this story, please continue to be in touch; I love to meet you and to enjoy your stories.

"Geneva Wilgus Follows a Higher Calling"

This is the recent article in Mid Coast Maine's The Times Record, about my project. Thank you to the TR staff!

Brunswick High grad heads to Tibet to teach 'rescued' girls

By Beth Brogan, Times Record Staff

PHIPPSBURG — Twenty-year-old Geneva Wilgus leaves March 9 for Tibet. On her first trip out of the United States, she'll travel from Phippsburg to Boston, then fly through New York and Beijing, landing in Xining, China. After acclimating to the 13,000-foot altitude, Wilgus will then travel by car 13 hours, "and go a little higher."

The journey will take the 2006 Brunswick High School graduate to the Golok Sengcham Drukmo Home for Girls in Qinghai Province, Tibet, where for three months she'll teach approximately 50 adolescent girls English and about various aspects of American culture, including dance, art, music — and baseball.

A fundraiser, contradance and silent auction to benefit the Golok Sengcham Drukmo Home for Girls in Tibet is scheduled to run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday at the Westcustogo Inn, 10 Princes Point Road, Yarmouth.
"I'm responsible for teaching the girls in Tibet to play baseball," said Wilgus last week as she began preparing for her trip. While admitting she's no Terry Francona, Wilgus has already bought a book about coaching baseball, noting, "I'm an All-American girl. I guess I can teach baseball."

While a student at Brunswick High School, Wilgus participated in Rick Wilson's service learning class. She then studied political communications at Cedarville (Ohio) University for two years before "taking this year off" to perform some sort of international community service. While volunteering last fall in Wilson's class — she also the served as public forum and policy debate team coach at Brunswick High — Wilgus met Bowdoin College senior Willy Oppenheim, founder of the Omprakash Foundation, an international service agency.

Through that "linking organization," Wilgus designed a service project with the Tibetan school, which had already built a new library through funding from the Omprakash Foundation. Omprakash also granted Wilgus $1,000 toward her travel expenses.

Oppenheim said Wilgus is a great example of the types of service relationships his foundation tries to build, connecting "people who are involved in and want to get involved in grassroots health and education projects" with international projects.

"Geneva will be able to support (the home) hugely by many means other than money," Oppenheim said Thursday. "Our network sort of empowers not just our partners to find the resources they need, but people like Geneva to be more effective social entrepreneurs in their own way."

Since its inception four years ago, the Omprakash Foundation has connected "dozens" of volunteers and partner agencies, Oppenheim said, and has granted nearly $150,000 to some partner organizations.

"I was ready to go anywhere," Wilgus said about choosing the Tibetan home. "I'll be teaching and organizing a library — anything else they need me to do. The home really needs help. They've never had a volunteer before. I've realized I'm passionate about working with women and women's rights."

The home for about 50 adolescent girls was funded by Dockpo Tra, a reincarnated lama. Wilgus said Tra "gave up his position to dedicate his home and his life to continue his father's work helping women escape a sort of marginalization of the Tibetan culture. In Tibet, women are domestic household figures and do all of the work but get no credit, and they can be treated pretty brutally."

The girls at the home, Wilgus said, "were either rescued from pretty awful circumstances or their family gave them up. A lot of the girls' mothers had been sexually abused, and the girls are the result of rape, and their fathers were unwilling to care for them."

The focus of the home, Wilgus wrote on her blog — http://servetolearn-learntoserve.blogspot.com — is to provide an education, a loving home with quality health care and career options, and "the tools to become an empowered woman, rather than a subservient household figure."

While volunteering in a service learning class taught by Rick Wilson — who Wilgus' mother said "really ignites a fire in many of the kids to serve" — Wilgus also substitute taught last fall for Longfellow Elementary School teacher Susie Knowles. As a result of that connection, Wilgus will carry copies of a book written by Knowles' fifth-grade students for the Tibetan girls about different aspects of an American school day. Wilgus hopes the Tibetan students will write similar pages, and that she will find a publisher to bind all the pages into a single book, so she can give copies to the schools and libraries here and in Tibet.

Last week, Dockpo Tra visited Maine, and spent a day visiting Knowles' students, as well as with Wilson's service learning students.

"It was an amazing experience for them," Wilgus said.

And one day this spring, the Tibetan students will also receive a package from Curtis Memorial Library. Wilgus has arranged with library director Liz Doucette to send to the Tibetan home 150 to 200 children's books that the library plans to replace due to gift funds.

"She's such a high-energy person," Doucette said this week about Wilgus. "She seems to have such a passion for what she's doing. I really tried to find a way we could support her."

This winter, Wilgus also has been busy raising funds for her trip. She's raised about $900 so far, which added to the Omprakash grant should just cover her travel expenses. On Sunday, she will hold a fundraiser, contradance and silent auction at the Westcustogo Inn in Yarmouth from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The event will feature auction items donated by local businesses and artists such as a handcrafted stool by local woodturner Paul Baines, as well as a "fast-paced, live music" contradance. All proceeds will benefit the Brunswick Scholarship Fund, which Wilgus established to benefit the home in Tibet.

After Sunday's benefit, Wilgus will begin in earnest to prepare for her travels. She's aware of the turbulent political landscape she'll travel to — March 10 marks the 50th anniversary of the exile of the Dalai Lama and the uprising that followed, and unrest in Tibet is likely. But Wilgus said she plans to "keep a low profile" and constantly be accompanied by locals. And yes, she is nervous, she acknowledged.

"I am 20 and am not completely independent yet," she said. "My parents are nervous, the same way I am, but we are examining the problems and looking at them realistically, and then coming up with solutions like making sure I have good travel insurance, learning the language, making sure I have people ready to meet me at every (point). But the potential for good outweighs the potential for harm."

For more information on the Golok Sengcham Drukmo Home for Girls, visit http://web.me.com/dockpotra/SDGH/Home.html

For more information on Wilgus' trip, visit http://servetolearn-learntoserve.blogspot.com

For more information on the Omprakash Foundation or to donate to the tax-exempt, non-profit foundation or the Golok Sengcham Drukmo Home for Girls visit http://www.Omprakash.org

Monday, February 16, 2009

new faces, familiar places

You're Invited to Geneva's First Fundraiser

February 22, 2009: 6-10pm Contra Dance & Silent Auction Wescustogo Hall, North Yarmouth
Come out to enjoy live music, unique auction items, and energetic dancing that's right for all ages and skill levels! It will be a night to remember.

If you have read the Times Record Article, please note that the fundraiser takes place at Wescustogo Hall, Walnut Hill Rd, North Yarmouth
not "Westcustogo Inn, Princes Pt Rd")

Susie Knowles' Longfellow classroom played host to Dockpo Tra last week, the founder and director of the Golok Sengcha
m Drukmo Home for Girls in Tibet. Dockpo visited class Wednesday, February 11, accompanied by myself and Steve Le, visiting from the Pacific Ridge School, and also as representative of the Omprakash Foundation, from Carlsbad, California.

Dockpo (back row, left) with Susie Knowles (middle row, right) Longfellow School Fifth Grade, and me (middle row, second in from right.)

captivated his audience of 10 year olds with the story of his dream to build a place that would allow Tibetan girls the equal opportunity that this Longfellow school classroom takes for granted. Dockpo explained to the class the oddity of children, boys and girls, sitting side-by-side in a learning environment when a Tibetan classroom is typically catered to boys.

Dockpo then asked the class for ideas to help Tibetan culture see women as equal, and the responses ranged; taking pictures of inverted gender roles, i.e.: men doing the grocery shopping or women in the business world was probably the most popular idea.

The children were left with the idea that "all it takes is a dream," and Reed, one of the students, commented that Dockpo sounded like MLKjr.

It was a delight to meet Dockpo, and he helped answer many of
my questions about Tibet. Dockpo, upon arrival to my house for dinner with some other guests, presented me with a Tibetan visual dictionary (which will be like gold in my new society) and with a beautiful yellow scarf, the traditional gift of welcome.

Dockpo and Steve also visited the Brunswick High School Service Learning class, meeting Rick Wilson and some interested students. Willy Oppenheim and Steve spoke to a larger group of students on Tuesday to tell them about independent service projects and the opportunities that Omprakash offers. It was a great week, and I am excited by all the fortuitous meetings that took place.

Dockpo (left) and Steve (right) talking with Brunswick High School Service Learning Class

Geneva, Dockpo and Susie

A couple things to report:

Through the generous donation of a gift card to LL Bean, I was able to purchase the shoes needed for the Tibetan climate; they are Keen, waterproof, and high support trail shoes that will certainly play a big part in my personal health and well-being while abroad. Thank you, Captain Ric Diaz, for your supp

The Curtis Memorial Library is currently compiling books to send to Tibet, and have invited me to talk with a Library volunteer to get the basics on book repair. They will be sending along a couple mending essentials so that the books will be kept in good condition for as long as possible. CML has also donated $100 towards the shipping and handling costs of sending books to Tibet; it's up to me and volunteers to raise the other approx $150-$200.

Longfellow School's 5th graders, taught by Susie Knowles, are in the midst of writing their pages for the book swap project and I am very excited to have a final project to show the girls in Tibet.

The Times Record, a newspaper for the greater Brunswick community, is writing an article on my project, to be featured in this Friday's edition. Be sure to pick up a copy when you're out and about this weekend, and here is the electronic version on the Times Record website: (copy and paste the URL into your browser)


or click on the link on the right side of the page.

Betsy Cantrell, a friend of the family, has collected notebooks, childrens books, pens and pencils for the girls in Tibet. Thank you, Betsy!

I am advertising my fundraiser contra dance and silent auction in the Bath and Brunswick communities; if you would like to advertis
e, email me for the flier.

The silent auction donations are going well! So far, I have received items and gift certificates from:
-Paul Baines, Fine Woodworking
-Bohemian Rose
-Bath Book Shop
-Pamela's World

-Game Box
-Bath Ski & Cycle
-Saltbox Pottery
-Mary Kay Cosmetics
-Kennebec Angler
-The Front
-Starz Hair Salon
-Lazy Bones
-Asia West
-Jeff Raymond, Wood Turner
-Red Dragon Toys
-Thousand Villages

There will be a wonderful selection of items, well worth your interest.

There will also be original Tibetan clothing items for sale.

On my to do list:

-Create a second fundraiser for the first week of March, t
o have a movie and discussion night. Rick Wilson and the Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA) purchased the educational film "Daughters of Everest" and are allowing me the use of the video. It is the story of the first attempt made to summit Everest by five Sherpa women, and represents the all-too-natural marginalization that women in that hemisphere face consistently. This film should provoke some good conversation, and I look forward to watching it with a larger group of interested individuals.

Image from "The Daughters of Everest"

-The upcoming fundraiser, (Sunday), is a challenge to prepare for, but I am enjoying the work. The silent auction requires a lot of organization, and I am in the process of recruiting volunteers. I look forward to the evening, and to meeting the people who are making this trip possible.

-I need to generate a specific list of creative ways to teach English to the girls in Tibet; I'm going to start with creating a big alphabet of the upper and lower case English letters to put up on walls in different rooms. I'll also create some visual dictionary items of universal symbols to put on the walls; this should be a good example of repetition and recognition. If learning is colorful and creative, then it will be fun.

Herman Melville said, "We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results."

If you are new to the blog, thanks for reading. Check out the links on the right side of the page for more information and background on my project. As always, don't hesitate to drop me a line: gmwilgus@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

last month in town

It's February, and in exactly 28 days, I leave for Tibet. I am feeling the stress of pulling together fundraisers as well as the various travel arrangements that are part of the trip, but, as one of my favorite poets says, "I am learning it daily, learning it through pains to which I am greatful: patience is all!" -RM Rilke, "Letters To A Young Poet."

If you are new to the blog, welcome! Read more about the background of this project through the links to older posts on the right side of the page.

Upcoming Fundraiser:

Sunday, February 22, 6pm-10pm
Silent Auction and Contra Dance
Wescustogo Hall, North Yarmouth

$8/Adult, children under 15/free
Live music, dancing for the whole family, and auction items you can't resist, all for a great cause.

A very warm thank you to all the people who have donated to my travel costs and to Golok Sengcham Drukmo; I have received approximately $900 from their generosity and I look forward to continuing to thank them for their investment through diligent service while in Tibet.

As per the recent donations, I just received confirmation for my recently purchased flight to Xining, China (Tibetan Autonomous Region) and I couldn't be more excited! I depart Logan Airport, Boston, on March 9th at 11am, to return to Boston on June 8, at 9pm. It's a grand total of 93 days in Tibet. (Does that have a better sound than "7 Years In Tibet"?)

More networking (my favorite)

Tonight, I am meeting Dockpo Tra, the owner, director, and founder of GSD. He is in Boston until March, doing fundraising for the school and is coming to Maine this evening to join Willy Oppenheim, Steve Le, and several other key players in this trip, for dinner. I am looking forward to meeting him; it will certainly compound the feeling of impending adventure that I have simply from pushing the button to purchase a flight today.

Steve Le is here, visiting from Pacific Ridge School in California, and brought with him a card and handmade books from students and classes at PRS. Thank you, again, for the support I am receiving from the 8th grade as well as other individuals at PRS. You guys are awesome!

Steve Sclar is a student at William and Mary, and will be coming out to Tibet to volunteer at GSD this summer. His stay should overlap with mine by about a week, and we are already in conversation about how to tag-team for the needs of the home. As a volunteer on the ground, I will be able to give Steve exact information for donations, or heads ups before he arrives. I am looking forward to meeting him.

Dockpo sent a couple of documents to me that provide the background story for every girl who is presently at the home. Not only does it provide insight as to why Dockpo's initiative is so necessary, but it also explains the dreams and goals of the girls, whether it's to be a doctor, a teacher, or a professional dancer. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the girl's stories, send me an email at: gmwilgus@gmail.com.

Dockpo also provided me with a breakdown of yearly expenses and budgeting for the home. If you would like to see that as well, don't hesitate to ask.

Thank you for reading, keep coming back!