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Heartwood Center, a holistic health center located at 1599 Maple St., has recently expanded its mission to promote women’s health by creating a school for girls in Tibet. The vocational boarding school that opened this past August currently provides room, food, clothing and education for ten girls ages 14 to 20 in the city of Yushu.
“I am so happy about this school,” says Asang, a meditation instructor at Heartwood Center who escaped from Tibet in 2000 shortly after his sister and her baby died during childbirth.
“Asang’s family story illustrates both the tragedy and the opportunity in this difficult situation,” says Nancy Floy, Heartwood’s executive director, who is married to Asang. “We believe the hope for Tibet lies in education.”
Tibetan women in the Nanchen region, high in the Himilayas, typically have six to ten children, yet the region has one of the highest mortality rates for infants and mothers during pregnancy and childbirth. In the fall of 2000, Asang left Tibet, driven by a mission to help prevent Tibetan women like his sister from suffering a similar fate. After a treacherous month-long journey, Asang made his way to Dharamsala, India, where he studied at the Dalai Lama’s school for Tibetan refugees. It was there that he met Ms. Floy during her trips from Evanston to the Dalai Lama’s school to provide health-care services for the women who had escaped. They married in 2006 and expanded Heartwood’s mission to include helping Tibetan women.
“Launching our school has really been a grassroots effort,” says Ms. Floy. “We started with no money. We simply placed a money box in the foyer of the Heartwood Center with a note explaining our desire to open the school.”
Within just five months, Asang and Ms. Floy raised the $6,000 needed to open the school. With local connections in eastern Tibet and the support of the Chinese government, the school officially opened in August of 2008. Although it is unlikely that Asang will be allowed back into Tibet any time soon, he keeps close tabs on the girls and their two teachers by phone.
“I speak to the girls at least four times a week,” says Asang. “They are so happy to be learning, they often continue their studies long after their teachers have gone home for the day.”
The girls learn sewing, weaving and other handicrafts, as well as business and computer stills. The students cook for themselves as they learn Chinese, English, math, reading and writing. Teachers also provide health-care information, especially the use of birth control.
The school recently had three visitors from America, including a female doctor who spent several days teaching the girls about healthcare.
Future plans for the school are already under way. The Heartwood Foundation has been applying for grants in hopes of raising money to expand the school.
Ms. Floy says she believes the girls are ready to open a store to sell their wares. Although the focus of the program will remain on girls, she and her husband are considering ways to help boys as well.
“These girls have boyfriends, brothers and cousins who would like to be a part of our program, too,” says Ms. Floy. “They have told us they want to open a motorcycle repair shop. Ideally, we would like to raise the funds to open two small shops, one for the girls and one for the boys.”
There are several ways the Evanston community can get involved. Ms. Floy says they would like to find pen pals for the girls and are always on the lookout for people interested in going to Tibet to teach.
“If anyone is planning to travel to Tibet, we would love to know about it,” says Ms. Floy. “A visitor from America is so thrilling and inspiring for the girls.”
Asang teaches a meditation class every Friday night at the Heartwood Center, from which all proceeds go to the school’s fund.
Asang and Ms. Floy are grateful for the opportunity to help young Tibetan women.
“The school is our way to create a local response to the situation,” says Asang. “People ask me what they can do to help. Providing an education and a safe place to live for young Tibetan women is a tangible way to contribute.”
“Our greatest wish is that our boarding school can help empower these young women and give them a hopeful future,” adds Ms. Floy. “We are so happy to honor Asang’s sister in this way.”
To make a donation or to get involved, call Nancy Floy at 847-491-1122 ext. 11.