How a US teenager toiled for 10 years to be the change for orphans in NepalAlessio Pieroni
She was just 17, and wanted to change the world for the better. Ten years later, she has done just that even if it is a small part of the world. At 27, Maggie Doyne, founder of Kopila Valley Children’s Home and BlinkNow Foundation, has become a symbol of hope for orphan children in Nepal.
After high school in NewJersey Maggie decided to take a gap year instead of going to university. “I just wanted to learn outside of my classroom and discover the world. That’s why I decided to come to India to work for an organisation which was helping refugees from Nepal. These people were fleeing the 13 years of internal strife in the Himalayan nation,” says Maggie.
This experience changed her life forever. She met a Nepali teenage girl who had escaped the country six-seven years before and had never returned. Maggie decided to make a trip with her to Nepal. “It was 2006, and it was my first visit to Nepal. I travelled around the country and began to understand the lack of livelihood and development in the region and how it was affecting the children. After the civil war there were one million orphans and I wanted to do something for them. So I called my parents in New Jersey and asked them to send me all the money that I had saved from babysitting and other odd jobs. With that money, which came to about $ 5000, I bought a piece of property and started a school for orphans in Nepal,” recalls Maggie.
Eight years later, this school has enrolled 230 children and has 14 full-time teachers. Today, Maggie is considered an education pioneer who is receiving awards from all over the world. Her young age was never an obstacle, but always an opportunity. “I started my journey when I was 18 and this helped me look at it with a different mindset. I was not sceptical and I was completely not afraid of challenges. Moreover, I knew that I didn’t have all the answers and the solutions to the problems I was facing, that’s why I did not hesitate to ask for help. Luckily, I had mentors and advisors who were ready to help,” says Maggie.
What’s wonderful about speaking with Maggie is that you feel her love for the children and for the cause she has embraced. Those children don’t have anything besides her, and she, despite her young age, feels like their mother.“A lot of kids joined the school when they were very small and they don’t remember anything about their previous ‘life’. That’s why they call me mum. And the funny thing is that when my parents visit the school they call them grandma and grandpa,” says Maggie with a smile.
She has the custody of more than 40 children, and she believes that this model is what is needed to change Nepal. “I believe that the best way to empower this country is to educate those children. I also decided to create a home for them since I hate the orphanage model. Here they are loved and they feel part of a family. That is something they have never experienced,” adds Maggie.
Though Maggie’s story of selfless love is an inspiration to a lot of people in the world, it was not without its challenges. “I came here without knowing how to speak Nepali. Communication was very difficult. Now I speak the language and all the children speak English fluently and that makes things way better. Moreover, educating kids was not easy at all. They have never experienced love or been lucky enough to have normal facilities. Building a relationship with them was so difficult, but seeing them growing up and become amazing teenagers makes me so proud,” reveals Maggie. There is also another personal side of her story that she found difficult to face. Being so young and living far from her family was very difficult for all of them. “First it was hard. My parents were nervous and not happy about me missing higher education. But over time they came to visit me, they met the kids and they understood. That changed everything completely. Right now they are very supportive and proud about what I’m doing,” adds Maggie.
The last eight years have changed Maggie completely and taught her a lot of things. “I learnt to be grateful for whatever is happening and to take actions. If we see something wrong we have to change it. That’s exactly what I did,” says Maggie, who has an important view on poverty. “If we want to alleviate poverty, we have to believe that it is possible. We have to take those solutions that are there.”
BlinkNow Foundation’s work in Nepal is outstanding from the qualitative side, but they are not working to open new schools in other parts of the world and to scale up. “I want to work in my own community. There is so much to do here that it requires all my focus. I have focussed more on quality than quantity. In term of scalability I do my best to spread the message and try to inspire others through my story. I leave the big scale to everyone else. I encourage everybody to make a change if they feel it is needed. But I want to be focused on my children,” shares Maggie, who has raised funds from the US for her cause.
There are times when Maggie has apprehensions and self doubt. “I have moments when I’m like ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ I get overwhelmed with my life. I’m far from where I grew up and it’s really difficult. But now I can’t think of my life without this path, without my kids and all the emotions that I have experienced living here in Nepal. Watching them grow is just amazing, because they gave me so much,” says Maggie. She has some great advice for young people who would love to impact the world. “Don’t wait until you are old enough to change the world. Don’t wait to retire, to have money or to have your masters’ degree. You can’t wait. You have to start right now. If I had waited, my kids wouldn’t have had a life as they do now,” she states.