The Pulse

Maggie Doyne on Empowering Women and Educating Children in Nepal

Maggie Doyne, the co-founder and CEO of the BlinkNow foundation, speaks to The Diplomat.

Maggie Doyne on Empowering Women and Educating Children in Nepal
Credit: Arun Budhathoki

Maggie Doyne is the co-founder and CEO of the BlinkNow foundation. Maggie is originally from New Jersey in the United States and has dedicated more than a decade of her life to educating children and empowering women. She was the recipient of the 2015 CNN Hero Award and her work has been recognized by the Dalai Lama, Elizabeth Gilbert, Nick Kristof, Katie Couric, and more. And, while her work is focused in Nepal, she speaks all over the world in the hopes of inspiring others to start projects that will generate positive change in our world.

Maggie had a brief talk with Arun Budhathoki for The Diplomat.

The Diplomat: How did your childhood and upbringing impact you in terms of your desire to do volunteer services?

Maggie Doyne: I started babysitting at a young age and I think that’s what prepared me to do the work I do today. I always enjoyed children and babysitting gave me great experience. Additionally, when I was on a gap year after high school, I traveled the world volunteering and I eventually ended up working with Nepalese refugee children in India.

In 2005, you met a refugee from Nepal during your volunteering at a children’s home in northern India. Can you tell us about that friend and what made you to visit her home during a ceasefire amid the Nepalese civil war?

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While I was in India, I became friends with a woman named Sunita. Once the border to Nepal reopened in 2006, I traveled back to Nepal with Sunita and her family. I was really curious and wanted to see her village so we trekked for two days until we reached Surkhet. And that’s where I ended up meeting Hima.

How did you meet Hima?

I met Hima when she was about 6 or 7 years old. I would pass her every morning as she was breaking rocks in a dry riverbed. Every time I would pass, she would look up and say, “Namaste Didi!” Seeing her made me think about my childhood. I wanted Hima to have an opportunity to receive an education like I did, so I decided to enroll her in school. After I enrolled her in school I thought, if I can enroll one child, why not five? Why not 10? It was my goal to one day walk across the dry riverbed and not see a single child breaking rocks.

Can you tell us the early days of starting your project and buying a land in the Kopila Valley? How did you meet your project partner, Top Malla? Has the partnership transformed your project?

I met my co-founder, Top Malla, while I was in India. Top is the uncle of my friend, Sunita. We all went to Nepal in 2006 and Top shared my passion for empowering Nepal’s children so we decided to work together. After enrolling children in school, we began to realize that some children didn’t have their most basic needs met. That’s when we decided to use my $5,000 in savings to open a children’s home. We worked closely with the local community and the government to develop a children’s home that was different from the orphanages I had seen while traveling on my gap year.

The partnership with my co-founder, Top Malla, has been vital to the success of our project. Not only is he an incredible leader but, because he was an orphan himself, he has a special ability to inspire and  relate to the children we work with.

You also founded BlinkNow Foundation in 2007 that helped support the Kopila Valley School.

The BlinkNow Foundation was created to provide financial support to the Kopila Valley School, Children’s Home and Women’s Center.

Tell us more about Kopila Valley School. Are you satisfied with the school’s performance? Has it changed the lives of local children?

The Kopila Valley School was established in 2010 and we couldn’t be prouder of how it’s evolved over the years. Kopila Valley is one of the top performing schools in the region and provides a free education to more than 400 students. We also provide our students with free uniforms, books, transportation, school lunches, and snacks at no cost – Out of the 76 schools in the area, we are the only school to do this.

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You also initiated Kopila Valley Women’s Center in 2013, Kopila Valley Health Clinic in 2011, and Kopila Valley Big Sister’s Home in 2017. What made you to start so many services for the people in Surkhet?

When we originally began this work, we wanted to help children and, in the process, we learned that in order to really help a child, we needed to take a holistic approach and help the community as well. This lead us to open a women’s center which allows us to empower women with the tools, skills and knowledge to overcome social inequality and gain economic independence. In additional, we also opened a health clinic to provide preventative care and health education to the local community. The Big Sister’s Home was created to provide additional support to some of our at-risk female students. Since entering the hostel, we have seen an improvement in grades and a boost in confidence.

You are also opening a new building of Kopila Valley School. Can you tell us about it?

Around five years ago, we decided to purchase land to build a new sustainable campus for our students. For years, we worked with engineers, architects, sustainability experts, and educators to create a school that we hope will be the greenest school in Nepal. It was a long process but, this week we opened the campus of our dreams – it is completely powered with solar power and features edible gardens, rainwater harvesting, biogas, solar cookers, composting, sustainable farming, wastewater recycling, rammed earth walls and more. This has been one of our biggest milestones yet. It’s a campus designed for indoor and outdoor learning. We built the campus using 100 percent Nepali labor and the school itself will employ more than 100 Nepali staff. We want this campus to be an example for education based projects all over the world.

You also won 2015 CNN Hero of the Year and several awards. Do you feel you’ve been rewarded for your services? How long will you continue to work for this cause?

The work that we do is rewarding itself. Yes, I have received awards that have helped us to expand our project, but the real reward for me is seeing the women and children we work with and seeing how much they thrive when they are empowered. I will continue my work until all children have access to education and poverty is a thing of the past.

Any message for those who wish to make a difference in Nepal and other developing nations?

As I always say: there is no time to waste. If you are educated and free, empowered and safe, you have to use your strength, your power, and your gifts to help the rest of our human family.