"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, April 8, 2009

one month down

The days are becoming noticeably longer as we hurtle closer to the sun, and I am enjoying the look (if not feel) of spring.  

I'd like to give a shout-out to my fellow Omprakash volunteer, Vance Walstra, who is currently in Peru and is concluding his 90 day stay soon.  Vance has done some amazing things there, including overseeing the construction of a new school!  He is the Greg Mortenson of South America and I am proud to call him a friend.  

A big thank you to everyone who has continued to financially support this project; I am still receiving donations through the mail back home, and those are going directly to SGH.  I wish I could thank you all in person, but please accept my continued gratitude on behalf the girls.

And a special hello to the four schools currently involved in the project; Sue Townsend's class at Wiscasset Elementary has been following the blog and sending weekly questions for me to answer about the culture.  They are also preparing to start their alphabet book project, creating several books that will be a unique learning tool for the girls.

Susie Knowles's class at Longfellow Elementary did a lot of work before I left to write a book about an average America school day and they also gathered academic supplies to send over. Hello and thank you to Longfellow; the girls are using the pens and pencils and getting ready to start writing a reply book!

Brunswick High School students are currently involved in creating and shipping educational posters, as well as books and other educational materials.  Louis Connelly is on the hunt for a computer donor, and Rick Wilson and Mary Herman have also been instrumental in generating support as well as recently sending out Vitamin C for the girls.

Steve Le and the Pacific Ridge School completed a drive to send educational materials like posters, maps and globes to SGH, and I am looking forward to introducing the girls to those helpful and stimulating additions to class.

Thank you to those driven individuals and classes who have been so helpful to the project and I look forward to thanking all of you in person this summer and fall.

I have been busy like a bee these past couple days with renewed networking and fund-raising and have much to report on that front, so buckle in and get ready.  First and foremost, we need funds to finish the new dorm building and library.  This is imperative if Dockpo is to move forward with plans to double the current number of girls he is caring for (51, with 150 more on the list).

We are also on the verge of diving (or plummeting) into the building plans for the hotel Dockpo wishes to build here in Darlag to generate additional income for the home.  Not only will it be an asset in terms of revenue, but also as training grounds for the girls here to gain financial independence and move out of the typical masculine reliance.  To that end I am researching loans, grants, micro-financing and I was able to contact Karen Mills, the new president of the Small Business Association, for advice.  If you have any suggestions, contacts or links for me to pursue, please shoot me an email:  gmwilgus@gmail.com  I also downloaded Google SketchUp, and will pretend to know what I'm doing as we start the construction plans for the approximately 16 square meters plot.  Wish me luck; although I think Google is enough of a tech god to save us from architectural disaster.  

I'm also actively looking for a volunteer nurse who would be willing to come to the home for a month, minimum, to do some training on basic nutrition and sanitation as well as teach the basics on cough/cold/fever care, puberty, small wound treatment, etc.  One of my best friends, Alyson McDonough, is a nursing student at St. Anselm College in NH and has agreed to help me network through her program.  Big thank you to Al!  Best case scenario would be for Al to come back to Tibet with me... but I'll work on that.  

Katie Glockner, a student at PRS, will also be doing some work on potentially finding and sending much-needed medical supplies.  

The standard request remains for children's books, (early reader and picture) to supplement the growing library here, and we also need computers.  If you are willing to donate any of those items, money towards their purchase, or if you know of a friend/colleague who is interested, I am ready to talk with them.  If you are a student, this is a great way to bolster your resume by starting a book drive and finding donors to pay shipping/handling costs!  Remember that education is the answer to a truly free Tibet.  

To donate, please visit my link organization's website:  www.omprakash.org/donate to make a secure, online donation.  Importantly, send me an email (gmwilgus@gmail.com) telling me that you donated, and in what amount, so that I can earmark it for SGH. 

For an update on class; these girls are such rockstars.  I am beyond pleased with their progress and we are having so much fun learning body parts and numbers.  A couple nights ago, I pulled the girls out their seats and let them trace each other onto the wall with different colored chalk, which was obviously a hit and an energetic way to start class. It really does make a difference to grab their attention in the first few minutes; they stay interested.  I fully labeled one of the traced bodies with the basic names of body parts, concentrating on pronunciation and spelling.  I even heard some of the girls beginning to sound out the words before I pronounced them!   That might sound insignificant, but when they have an entirely new alphabet it is no small feat.  I then handed out chalk and let the whole class tackle the different body sketches and put up the correct labels, which I checked to make sure they aren't getting sloppy on spelling.  It worked; they walked around touching various body parts, calling out the name, and looking to me for approval even after class ended.

We will be moving on to the head and shoulders song, as well as playing Flyswatter with the labeled body drawings on the wall.  Can't wait.  

The girls are now fluent in numbers 1-20, which was surprisingly difficult.  It took a lot of sessions of jump-rope counting to get to that point, and I made up a game for them to play the other night which finally helped.  I created a set of cards, numbered 1-20, with a matching set of cards labeled with the English spelling, ie "one" through "twenty."  I mixed them up and handed them out, one to each girl, and then instructed them to stand up, move around, and find their number match using only English and then stand with their match, organized in line from least to greatest.  It was so fun and the girls were excited to move quickly to find their number match before others.

We'll play that game again, and I've already created cards to play that game with colors, ie, I drew with red marker on one card and put the word "red" on its matching card.  It will be great fun.  Here's a point of interest in cultural dichotomy that I have found; the girls are loud, happy, talkative and, well, normal pre-teen and teenage girls in class.  They have no problem grabbing my hand and dragging me over to their drawing or calling my name to come check their spelling and, of course, the louder the better.  It's much easier to interact and focus on real issues if we have no social barrier.  

Take these brazen beauties and put them in the kitchen with a couple local men hanging out on the carpet-covered bench and their personality vanishes a la Houdini.  With a bowed head and muted, one-word responses, they quietly move around, re-filling the aforementioned men's bowls and generally catering to the men who won't move a few feet to do it themselves.

I noticed this as a trend after observing several different girls acting identically and asked Dockpo if this was typical behavior.  As assumed, Dockpo affirmed that this was indeed the norm and suggested that I can help teach confidence.  I immediately told Mimtso (Dockpo translating) to show off her pretty face and keep her head up!  We all laughed, and Mimtso blushed, but I noticed that she looked around a little more during the rest of the night.

Dockpo and the other men who live at the home certainly do not cater to an idea that women are lesser, if anything, Dockpo is constantly talking to the girls and involving himself with them so as to highlight, and familiarize them with, their inherent gender equality.  

Another cultural dichotomy that is, perhaps, less socially relevant but interesting nonetheless is the "gilded cage" dilemma.  The Tibetan society is decorative, colorful and sequined to the point of resembling St. George's scaly dragon.  Well, maybe not that bad.  But it is decorative and colorful, evidenced by their beautiful, detailed architecture, their lovely jewelry and beading and huge amounts of decor and applique on every article of clothing.  The overall effect is multi-faceted, rich, and exudes a flavor for life that is unique to this people group.  Not to discredit the Tibetan's artistic expression, but beyond the hand-painted trim-line or the exquisitely detailed picture window there are shoddy construction materials, crumbling and improperly mixed concrete, perilously slanted flights of stairs, and a general lack of attention to detail for, what Americans would consider, the important stuff.  The same deal with clothing; the pretty papilio glaucus stitched onto a jean leg distracts from thin fabric and loose basting. Socks fall apart at a record pace, hats become unraveled at the seam, and jackets lose their poly-down stuffing.  I am not criticizing nor am I disapproving; there is a happiness derived from beauty that is indispensable, and there are plenty of less-than-happy people in America with quality GoreTex products on their backs.  

As a combination of the Tibetan's awareness of beauty and their no-shame scrutiny of your person, I have been accosted on several occasions for having the typical facial blemish of a person removed from their normal health, fitness and cleanliness regime:  a pimple.  I'll walk into a room, not aware that the volcano on my forehead is screaming "look at me" and will be immediately accosted by concerned glances and pointing fingers with accompanying looks of questioning as if to ask, "do you know that your house is on fire and your children are missing and I'm pretty sure your husband swallowed arsenic?"  Since it's clearly a grave matter, I spend a few respectful moments in silence, give a couple sincere head nods, before responding with a shoulder shrug and stoic smile.   Like, I'm sorry I don't have flawless skin... leave me alone with my zit!

On another, humorous note, I got up this morning to walk down to the outhouse and was greeted by Shangbo and a locked door; she informed me that "lots of other people" have been using the outhouse and thus, the locked door.  Okay, so, granted, there is a wall around the hole in the ground but it's just a hole in the ground -- let's not get overly protective here.  As a result, I had to pop a squat right out in the open, fingers crossed that no commode-stealing derelict would wander over in search of evacuative relief.  No one did, and the outhouse should be unlocked soon, because, well the alternative is just plain dirty. More to come on that front... or back, pun intended.

Happy Easter to you and your family; please continue to send me the odd newsy email or facebook message as I do love to read and respond.  Take care, and chew on this quote from Aristotle, "We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."


  1. This is such a wonderful blog! I need to sit down and read through all of your posts!

    Thanks for stopping by the Pink Heels blog and allowing me to find out about your Tibetan adventures.

  2. THANK YOU SO MUCH GENEVA! THAT MEANS A LOT! Especially coming from you! Greg Mortenson! puh... I wish... poco y poco...
    Hey i just read through your latest blog and also looked at the photos... one question? Do all the kids there always have snot running out of their nose too! Im like thinking... CANT YOU FEEL THAT DRIPPIN ON YO LIP SON!? ;)

  3. I have been reading through all of your posts! Incredible! Beautiful! Inspiring!

    If I wasn't teaching a spring/summer class, I would jump on a plane and volunteer as the nurse that you are seeking. I'll send out an email to all of my nursing friends to see if they are interested.

  4. I am happy to find this blog!!! keep posting pls:)

  5. Summer does not come from the earth "hurtl[ing] closer to the sun"; were that the case, then it would hardly be the case that seasons in the Southern hemisphere are opposite those of the Northern. Summer comes because the axis of rotation of the sun is not perpendicular to the orbit of the sun -- the axis is inclined (obliquity) by 23.5 degrees.

  6. Geneva darling - What you are doing and teaching and learning is remarkable, extraordinary, fantastic and splendid. Do you still need yarn? And do you have vocabulary to differentiate between wool and synthetic? You mentioned "going back to Tibet" - when is this to occur? I love you. Lizzie