Home in Nepal
By Kate Morgan

We first covered Moorestown’s Maggie Doyne in 2016, right after she had been named CNN’s Hero of the Year. Doyne was recognized for the home she started for orphaned children in Nepal soon after graduating high school. She had used $5,000 of her babysitting money to start the school after visiting the country during a gap year trip.

In more than 15 years since, she’s made a home and life for herself in Nepal, established a major nonprofit organization, built a school, the children’s home, a women’s center, a health clinic and more. She’s been named CosmoGirl of the Year and won awards from Forbes, dosomething.org and the Dalai Lama.

“There were rocky moments, I think, in the early years,” says Doyne, now 35. “We all had a lot to learn.” It was difficult, Doyne says, to create change without simply imposing her Western views on the Nepali people. “There were hard moments, like ok, is this something you fight because it’s wrong, or is it just the culture? Stuff like the menstrual taboo, where a menstruating woman has to stay alone in a hut, or early marriage. I had to figure out how to not rock the boat too much, but also push change and progress with our team and the community.”

In the spring of 2015, a massive earthquake struck Kathmandu, in the center of Nepal, killing roughly 9,000 people and injuring many more. At the same time, Doyne and her team at the BlinkNow Foundation were preparing to break ground on a massive project – a new school designed to provide an education to hundreds of Nepali orphans.

“The earthquake made us go back to the drawing board and think about what and how we wanted to build,” Doyne says. “We set out to build the safest, greenest school in the world. It wasn’t easy. After the earthquake we were dealing with water issues, gas bottle shortages…the lights were out for 14 hours a day. We were in this place where we had to think outside the box when it came to energy and resources. We started looking at solar, wastewater management, rainwater capturing, edible landscaping. We really went outside the box because we could, and because we were building in this era when Nepal was up against these intense obstacles.”

The school officially opened in February of 2017, and enrollment has now expanded to close to 500 children. Tuition and expenses are covered for every student.

“The scholarship comes with huge, lifelong interventions and family support. To qualify, you have to be an orphan or semi-orphan, living in an unstable or unsafe family condition and unable to attend school for various reasons. The whole school is made up of students like these.”

In addition to the school, BlinkNow runs a women’s center that accepts applicants based on a similar model. “It’s for women who have been victimized by abuse, widowed women and others,” Doyne says. “They get into a 10-month course. They learn things like sewing, seamstressing, farming, beauty, all kinds of different skills. They take finance courses and get job readiness training. A lot of the base of the curriculum is Business 101. Then they have access to microloans to launch their own businesses.”

So far, the program has helped close to 300 women. “Now our programs involve the whole family,” Doyne says. “We offer afterschool programs, sports, art, theater, gardening, and then social support programs, like a food bank when it’s needed. We’re making sure the whole family is supported.”

Doyne considers every single Nepali student and youth she’s helped to be her child, but her biological family is growing too. Shortly after she won the CNN award, she flew to California for some training that accompanied the prize. “I met my husband, kind of by accident,” she says. “We just instantly hit it off, and a few months later he moved to Nepal with me.”

During the pandemic, the pair left Nepal, spending time in British Columbia with Doyne’s ailing father-in-law before settling temporarily in California to have their second child. They plan to return to Nepal in a few months, she says.

“Nepal’s definitely home,” she says. “But home for me has become so all over the place. Is it New Jersey? Is it Canada? Is it Nepal? For us, it changes. Home has become wherever we are.”

Doyne recently wrote a memoir titled “Between the Mountain and the Sky: A Mother’s Story,” which will be published by HarperCollins this March.

“It’s about the humble learning experiences and a lot of loss,” she says. “It’s also about falling in love and coming of age.”

Read our 2016 story about Maggie Doyne

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