02/20/2009 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.
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