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January 07, 2011

Not Just Any Yak

My friend Gwen gave me a Yak for Christmas. Not a real one of course, but one made by Lungtok. That's what the tag around its neck says. Lungtok even has an e-mail address.

This story began five years ago when a Japanese artist named Tomoyo Ihaya, who lives in Vancouver, first visited India for a couple of weeks of meditation and trekking in Ladakh in the northwest part of the Himalayan Mountains. She fell in love with "its bare beauty of nature, ancient culture and people who live a simple life."

Tomoyo described it as a life-changing experience.

In 2006 while participating in an artist project with other international artists, Tomoyo met some young Tibetans who were selling momos (Tibetan dumplings). She bought them and became friends with one of the sellers.

One day while eating at a small restaurant run by a Tibetan refugee, she noticed a couple of Tibetan boys who seemed to have a talent for drawing. She brought some watercolours and paper but had the idea to teach them how to make three-dimensional figures with needle and fleece or needle felting. She says she only showed them for a few minutes.

The next day when she returned she found they had made a horse and a yak. She says she was really moved to see how alive and honest the fleece animals looked.

She began to think that it could be a good way for these refugees to make a living while allowing them to connect with their cultural heritage and to keep on connecting their hearts to where they feel they belong: high blue sky, rivers, mountains, and green grassy fields filled with those animals.

Since she has returned to Canada she has sold three bunches of these animals and returned the profit to them.

Her dream is to establish a non profit organization in India so she can do more creative activities for the Tibetan refugee community there.

She named her project the Himalaya Sky Project and has been baking cookies and selling them as a small step toward registering a non profit organization in India to help support the art and culture of the Tibetan refugee community in India and in the Himalayas.

When I was in Vancouver, it was sheer coincidence that Gwen and I saw Tomoyo briefly on January 2nd at the kitchen store on Granville Island where she works part time in between her travels.

You can learn more about Tomoyo from a 2008 article in  The Georgia Straight. (scroll down when you get to the article).

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