In just a decade, Maggie Doyne, founder of BlinkNow has changed the future of about 500 children and she is just getting started.
by Aisiri Amin
It’s easy to sympathise with the people from a disadvantaged background but to proactively work towards bringing a change in their lives is something that our hesitancy stops us from taking the effort. We live in a time of instant gratification so we help a child with stationery or some other basic need and stop there. But Maggie Doyne didn’t. She decided to do much beyond that.
What started with helping one girl has now become her life. In 2008, she started BlinkNow Foundation, a not-for-profit trust based in Nepal that nurtures orphaned children, educates them and helps them grow into strong, independent people. Doyne along with Top Malla co-founded Kopila Valley Children’s Home which shelters around 50 children. She also set up a school which now provides education to around 400 children.
In an interview with INKLINE, Maggie Doyne talks about BlinkNow, the importance of education and her story that is changing lives every single day.
INKLINE: What made you start BlinkNow? How did it come about?
MAGGIE DOYNE: When I first arrived in Nepal, I started to notice all of the orphaned children and child labourers. Seeing these children made me think of my own childhood and how it was so different from what these children were experiencing. The longer I stayed, I began to learn more and more about the astonishing number of orphans and impoverished children who lack an opportunity to receive an education.
Eventually, I met a little 6-year-old girl named Hima who spent her days breaking stones to sell for construction. I decided that I could help her by paying for her tuition, books, and uniform. But then I thought, if I can help one child, maybe I can help more. Why not 15? Soon it became my dream to walk across the dry riverbed, where I first saw Hima, and not see a single child breaking stone. This was the opening for the work I do now.
After helping Hima I started to take notice of the quality of orphan care in Nepal. With the support of the community and my co-director, Top Malla, we built the Kopila Valley Children’s home where children would feel safe, loved, and cared for. Two years later we opened the Kopila Valley School.
And, a few years after that, we opened a women’s centre and a medical centre to serve the community.
I: From New Jersey to Nepal, how did that journey happen? What was it that motivated you to start the Kopila Valley Children’s Home?
M: I ended up in Nepal after taking a gap year following high school. I knew I wasn’t ready for college and it felt irresponsible for me to go without a plan of what I wanted to study. After travelling to several countries, my gap year eventually brought me to India where I met Nepali refugees that had fled the civil war in Nepal.
They were planning to return to Nepal and I decided to go with them. That’s how I ended up in the mid-western region of Nepal. As I noted earlier, I opened the children’s home after seeing the state of orphan care in Nepal. I wanted to create a home where children felt safe.
I: Can you tell us how your initiative is bringing about a change in the lives of women and children in the region who face many challenges on a day to day basis?
M: Our organization has brought many positive changes to Surkhet. The school is providing an education to some of the disadvantaged children in the region – many of them are the first in their families to attend school. At school, they receive a hot meal and a snack and for some, that’s the only meal they will receive all day. Additionally, the school is employing many locals in the Surkhet area – boosting the economy.
The women’s centre has also brought positive changes to the community. The centre is empowering women by teaching business skills, technical skills, and life skills.
I: Poverty has always held a country back in terms of social progress. How important do you think is education, for a country to release itself from the chains of poverty?
M: I think education is key to ending poverty. Especially education for our girls. It’s been proven that economies improve when girls and women are educated.
I: Tell us about some of the issues your organisation has tackled or some of the projects you have been working on.
M: Our organization has tackled many issues that our students and women at the women’s centre sometimes face – this includes domestic violence, child marriage, indentured servitude etc.
I: What has been the most uplifting part of the journey?
M: Wow, it’s hard to name just one, but watching my children and the students at Kopila Valley grow and transform – that has to be the most uplifting part of my journey. Seeing the smiles, the confidence, and the pride. Knowing that they feel loved and cared for. Knowing that they no longer worry whether or not they will have another meal. These are the things that fill me with joy. Knowing that they feel safe now.
I: What has been the most challenging part?
M: The challenging part has been keeping our students safe from child marriage, domestic servitude, and domestic violence. Our 50 children in the home are protected but for the 300+ students that go home every day, this can sometimes be a reality.
I: What are your plans for the near future?
M: We are in the process of building a new sustainable campus up the road from our existing campus. The campus will feature many green building techniques. We are really excited about it! Additionally, we are now watching our first graduates go off into the world – gearing up for university, vocational schools and independent living. This has also been really exciting to watch.
I: If you could give one piece of advice to millennials across the world, what would it be?
M: 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. Start now, start with what you have.
Aisiri Amin is a journalist specialising in social justice, gender issues and culture. She has written for The Hindu and works as a freelance writer. Social wallflower and an idealist at the core, she lives on books, tea and hope (in that particular order).