Dreaming Big

Features Issue 170 Jan, 2016
Text by Kabita Mandal

“In the Blink of an eye, we can all make a difference”- Maggie Doyne, BlinkNow Founder, & CNN Hero of the Year.

After high school, New Jersey teenager Maggie Doyne decided to travel the world with her backpack. While trekking through the Himalayas in war-torn Nepal, Maggie’s life course changed, and the trip turned into a long-term commitment. Driven by her passion to create a better lifestyle for the impoverished children, Maggie bought a plot of land using her babysitting savings. With the help of local community behind her, she built a home for orphaned children and a primary school for the most destitute children in the region. Presently, Maggie is the founder of the BlinkNow Foundation, and successfully runs Kopila Valley School, which educates hundreds of children. She is this year’s CNN Hero of the Year. ECS NEPAL recently talked to her to learn about how her life-altering trip to Nepal changed her life goals, and her future plans for the organization. Here’s what she has to say.

Tell me about your journey on what you wanted to be as a youngster and how your life changed?

As a child, I always imagined I would go to college, but after high school I decided that I would take a gap year instead. I didn’t know that I would end up in Nepal. I started my gap year in the South Pacific Islands, and later traveled to North Eastern India for an internship. That’s where I met a community of Nepali refugees. They are the reason I eventually traveled to Nepal, and that’s where I met Hima and many other children, who were living in extreme poverty. This is the moment that changed the course of my life.

What was the defining moment in your life to start Kopila  Valley?

I first started by helping one child, and then another... and another. It got harder to turn a child away. For the home, I always said I would stop at 15, and then, 30 children. Now, I am a guardian to 50 beautiful children.

When I first started enrolling children in school, my goal was to help one child at a time, until there were no more children breaking rocks in the dry riverbed to sell for money. I wanted all of the children to be enrolled in school. At a certain point, with the help of the community, we decided to build our own school, the Kopila Valley School. 

How did you persuade your parents to follow your aspirations at the youthful age of 19?

My parents were, of course, concerned about my decision to postpone college, but at the same time, they trusted me and supported me the entire way. 

What is the relationship between you and your children? What are the challenges of mothering so many children?

I’m very close with all of them. Many of them have been in the home since they were little children. They are teenagers now. They call me mom, mommy, and Maggie mom. Ravi calls me momma. I guess the challenges I face are like any other parent. Ravi is about to enter the terrible twos, and the teenagers are going through a cool phase. Sometimes, it’s a lot to deal with at once, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. My children mean everything to me, and they are what keeps me motivated. 

What do you hope this recognition (CNN Hero of the Year 2015) will mean for the Kopila Valley School and BlinkNow Foundation?

My hope is that this recognition will inspire others to help our human family. We all have talents and skills that we can use to create change. 

What do you want people to know most about your work?

I want them to know that I was just a normal girl who saw a problem I thought I could fix. I started small and helped one child at a time. Eventually, with the support of the community and my staff, my project grew even larger and helped more people. 

How will you use the award money you received as CNN Hero of the Year 2015?

We plan to use the money to build the campus of our dreams. We are currently working to build a new campus that will replace the existing one. It will be sustainable and earthquake-proof. Our goal is for this campus to serve as an example for other schools in the region and around the world. 

What are your future plans?

Right now, my future plans are based around my children and the students at the school. CNN Heroes was an unforgettable experience, and it was great to be in the U.S. to meet with so many of our supporters, but I’m happy to be back home in Nepal; with my children and with the wonderful people in our community. My plans right now are to spend time with my children and watch them grow.