Love and loss. Healing and hope.

Personal saga of an American teenager who helps to shape the future of Nepali children

The Kopila Valley School in Surkhet, Nepal. Photo: ALLISON SHELLEY

Maggie Doyne was a wide-eyed 19-year-old in 2006 when she came to Nepal to backpack. But she was not trekking to Everest Base Camp or the Annapurnas. She was in the remote Karnali region where tourists seldom venture.

While walking along a dry river bed in Surkhet, she spotted a 6-year-old girl helping her mother break boulders for a construction contractor. The two smiled at each other. 

Her name was Hima Tamata, and she became the reason Maggie Doyne stayed on in Nepal to help disadvantaged children in the Karnali with money she earned from baby-sitting back home in Mendham, New Jersey.

Seventeen years later, the act of enrolling Hima in school has grown into the BlinkNow Foundation that runs the Kopila Valley Children’s Home and School in Surkhet.

Along the way, Maggie Doyne was named CNN Hero in 2015, and has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, and this newspaper. She was named Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine — all of this helping fundraise for BlinkNow’s many activities, which include educating 500 children at the Kopila school and vocational training for women.

Kopila proves that high-quality education can be free, and its new campus in Surkhet is a model for sustainable architecture with rammed earth walls, rainwater harvesting, solar cooking, and a vegetable farm.

Last year, Doyne’s biography Between the Mountain and the Sky: A Mother's Story of Hope and Love was published by HarperCollins in North America, and the South Asian edition is being launched on 29 April in Kathmandu.

The book is an emotional coming-of-age story of how one gap year student can change the world. Along the way, there are personal hurdles, financial challenges, the tragic loss of two children, and finally finding love.

Maggie Doyne

Parents, including her own, back in the States do not understand why Doyne is not in college like everyone else’s kids. She does not fully comprehend it herself, but knows it was all because of one little girl breaking stones by the river in Surkhet.

Doyne grapples with contradictions about Nepal: ‘I wonder how a culture that so celebrates children can also fail at protecting them … How can we alleviate suffering and improve the lives of children without westernising the world?’

As charities in Nepal have found out the hard way, there are obstacles when they try to do the work that the government should be doing. A powerful local Maoist implicated in the abuse of a 13-year-old girl gets journalists to smear Kopila, and suddenly there are death threats and physical attacks

Read Also: The stone-breaker's daughter, Ram Tamang

We’ve crossed the line,’ Doyne recalls. ‘We’re no longer just feeding the forgotten women and children of Nepal; we’re empowering them. Nobody asked us to do that.’

She develops strong bonds with two  rescued children: Juntara who has a tumour in her eye, and little Ravi who was found abandoned. Losing them scars Doyne deeply, but she gradually rebuilds inner strength by finding personal love, and a renewed motivation to expand and sustain Kopila.

Just like the old song ‘Love will keep us together’, in the end it is love for Nepal and her children, for her co-workers that inspires Doyne. She writes: ‘We can choose love. We can create the world we want to live in, and the first step is believing that it’s possible.’

After nearly two decades, Doyne says it is time for her to step back from the limelight and put the focus on Nepali change-makers like Tope Malla who will take Kopila’s mission into the future. 

Doyne writes, ‘As people in positions of privilege and power, it is our responsibility to help, not constantly be the centre of the story.'
Kopila’s alumni are now in jobs and universities around the world, they are teachers, scientists, farmers, entrepreneurs and even a striker in Nepal’s national female football team. 

Hima Tamata is now a confident 24-year-old chef. Inspired by her friend and mentor,  she wants to help other Nepalis like her.

Read Also: Starting Nepal's green school movement, Sheilin Teo

Maggie Doyne

Kunda Dixit


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