By Pervez Saleem
“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven.”
“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”
“No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.”
WE BELIEVE EVERY CHILD DESERVES A PLACE TO CALL HOME
How babysitting money planted a seed to help Nepali kids blossom
“Every good home needs a solid foundation.” -Maggie Doyne
What does it take to build a home? Mud, bricks, cement and stones. Love, sweat, trust and perseverance. It takes all that and so much more. The Kopila Valley Children’s Home opened in 2007, built brick-by-brick by the people of Surkhet and with the help of friends around the world. And while Kopila Valley has grown a lot over the years, this home will always be where the heart is.
WHY WE BUILT THE KOPILA VALLEY CHILDREN’S HOME
When Maggie Doyne arrived in Surkhet, Nepal was just coming out of a long civil war. A conflict that forced many families from their homes – and left many children on the streets. Without enough food in their bellies or enough money to attend school. Many are forced to work hard labor, breaking and carrying stones or sifting through garbage, to earn the 25 cents that gets them from one day to the next. This is the harsh reality many still face, even years after the war. For the children of Kopila Valley, our home provides a different reality. One that is still filled with hardships, but also filled with comfort, compassion and community.
WELCOME! PLEASE COME IN
The Kopila Valley Children’s Home is all that the word “home” implies: cozy, warm, bright, cheerful. We don’t use the word “orphanage” around Kopila. Like any other house and any other family, we are brothers and sisters, mother and children.
Kopila is currently home to 44 beautiful, happy and thriving children. Our family ranges in age from 3-14 and is under the care and guardianship of Maggie, Kopila Valley and a loving team of eight aunties and uncles. Step inside:
1- First story for the family room and youngest children’s bedrooms, plus the kitchen, office, storage and laundry room. (We have a lot of laundry!)
2- Second story for the playroom and older children’s bedrooms.
3- Third story for the satsang room and Kopila Fellows’ bedrooms.
3- Smaller building nearby for our live-in aunties, uncles, volunteers and staff.
4- Yard and a playground where the kids play all their favorite games.
5- Year-round vegetable garden where we grow most of our food, plus fruit trees.
6- Two puppies (Nikki and Nacho), chickens and a pet turtle.
We live communally. We love and respect each other. Our kids happily do chores, go to school and help with meals. The family always sits together for homemade, nutritious meals. You can also find the children reading under the gazebo, flying kites on the roof, jumping rope or playing hacky sack, marbles or freeze tag. Every morning, we meet to discuss values and what it means to be a citizen of this world. Every evening, just before story time and tooth brushing, we gather for a “satsang” to sing songs, talk about our day and have quiet time as a family.
WE BUILT THIS HOME TOGETHER
What started as a one-story structure has risen to three, as our family kept growing. Walking through the house, you can feel all the love that went into its making. Every brick, every stone, every window, every door. The colorful paint on the walls. The bouncing balls in the playground. The seeds in the garden.
Our home is a source of safety, sanctity, peace and happiness. And unforgettable memories. This is where our family eats meals together. Where we sing together. Where we read books at bedtime and rest our heads at night. In so many ways, we built this home together – one story at a time.
KOPILA VALLEY SCHOOL
“We are the Kopilas, blooming every day. We are the Kopilas, learning every day.” -Maggie Doyne
BlinkNow traces its history back to one simple act of helping one young girl go to school. That act, rooted in hopes and dreams, triggered a series of others that led to the opening of Kopila Valley Primary School in 2010, the construction of a new high school and the groundwork for countless hopes and dreams in between – and moving forward.
WHY WE BUILT THE KOPILA VALLEY SCHOOL
The relationship between education and opportunity is clear worldwide: More of the first equals more of the second. In Nepal, the stakes are higher than ever. There is an incredible demand for higher education and job security thanks to post-civil war economic development. And yet:
1- Adult literacy rate is 66%.
2- Unemployment rate is 40%.
3- Dropout rate is 59% after 8th grade (39% after 5th grade).
WE BELIEVE EDUCATION CAN CHANGE THE WORLD
In Nepal’s remote villages, the numbers are worse. Unemployment is near 80% in Surkhet, mainly because so many adults are uneducated. And yet in regions this poor, this isn’t just about finding a job. Nearly half of all the five-year-old children in Nepal are malnourished, so school can provide at least one healthy meal each day. For girls, school promotes gender equality and helps delay the age of marriage (11% of Nepal’s population marries by age 14), which improves the rates of HIV, maternal death and suicide (the number one killer of women in a country where many girls list early marriage as a cause of mental distress). Around here, the impact of education is literally life altering.
LEARNING FOR LIFE
At Kopila Valley School, we are dedicated to creating an environment that fosters mutual respect and working together, deep learning and boundless creativity. To developing joyful, compassionate learners and innovative thinkers. As part of our vision, we were the first school in Nepal to outlaw corporal punishment, a decision that stands in stark contrast to nearby schools but is key to our students’ success.
Our gates open bright and early at 7:00 in the morning and don’t close until 6:00 in the evening. The program is divided into four schools and offers a diverse curriculum – math, science, Nepali, English, social studies, computers – for nursery through 9th grade (with more to come soon).
Our students are at their best when their creative energies are stoked. They thrive at science fairs and theater performances, art month and poetry slams. They love dancing and moving, reading and learning. Kopila Valley School focuses on Montessori methods over teaching to a test. On helping students become doers – and future leaders.
MORE THAN A SCHOOL
Most of our 350 students come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds. Living in mud huts, abandoned or lacking access to education. So as much as our school serves as a place to learn, it is much more than that. It is also a day program where students enjoy a nutritious meal, basic medical and dental care and after-school activities like sports, music, crafts and cooking classes. The campus includes a Mental Health and Counseling Center, the Kopila Valley Health Clinic, tutoring room, computer lab, community theatre and small library. We provide school uniforms and books for each student.
During school hours, you will see our students taking pride in everything they do. They line up for class. They wash their faces and brush their teeth. They sit quietly for meetings. All of our students are fluent in English, which is a big step up compared to their peers. But the goal of our school is not just literacy and learning facts. It’s about shining a light on each student’s potential and inspiring a belief that they can lead a better life.
EXCELLING BEYOND EXPECTATIONS
Kopila Valley School is currently ranked one of the top schools in the region, setting a precedent for the quality of education provided to children in rural Nepal. A big part of our success is the dedication and excellence of our teaching team, a group of local teachers that are truly second to none.
We work alongside the Ministry of Education, the Women’s and Children’s Welfare Organization, the local municipality and district administrators to meet government standards for education, while also supplementing our own curriculum through guidance from visiting educators and other sources.
Our 8th graders spend months gearing up for the D.L.E., a national exam to graduate and move into high school. Our students prepare by taking extra classes before and after school, and doing practice tests on the weekends. In 2013, every one of our 8th graders placed in first division, and ten students were awarded with distinction. Even though we don’t focus on teaching to a test, the D.L.E. is a good measure for the kids and our young school. We’re all so proud of this incredible accomplishment. Not just for the high marks, but also for all the hard work and studying our students did to achieve something so big, together.
ACROSS THE OCEAN
Nisha, one of our first students, recently attended Peck, a coeducational day school in New Jersey, as part of a cultural exchange program. She loved her experience and learned more about the world than she ever imagined.
We believe that Kopila Valley can become a role model to other schools in our region, collectively raising the standard of education in our area. Our primary objectives:
1- Continue to offer nutritious food, clean water, medical care, clothing and housing, if needed.
2- Provide a multidimensional educational experience that both reaches beyond the traditional classroom, including art, music, world religion, sustainability and human values.
3- Provide vocational training skills to develop self-sufficiency, including sewing, cooking, gardening, husbandry, community outreach, computer skills, business and entrepreneurship.
4- Teach students how to grow and develop in an age of globalization while instilling a strong sense of cultural identity and connection to their land, environment and heritage.
5- Establish a relationship with the local community to raise local awareness and stress community influence.
6- Conduct programs and scholarships for girls and socially vulnerable young women within the community, thus encouraging women’s welfare, empowerment and gender equality.
By providing our students with secondary education, entrepreneurial, leadership and vocational skills training, we aim to cultivate a generation of good, caring and compassionate citizens who will bring innovative ideas and positive development to Nepal and the world.
“Creating an environment where children thrive and succeed really is like solving a puzzle.”- Maggie Doyne
In Kopila Valley, health and education go together like two pieces of a puzzle. After opening our school, we realized that kids wouldn’t attend regularly or be able to succeed until they were healthy and nourished – and that they wouldn’t be healthy and nourished until they came to school. That’s why we started the Kopila Valley Health Clinic in 2011. We focus primarily on preventive care, because we’ve also learned that sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference.
WHY WE BUILT THE KOPILA VALLEY HEALTH CLINIC
Living in Nepal’s remote regions presents many challenges, not the least of which is health. Disease and malnourishment are prevalent. Clean water and sanitation are not. While local doctors and nurses are committed to their patients, the hospitals are understaffed and the quality of care is low. It is a crisis situation. As a result, there is often a fine line between life and death. What might be a simple diagnosis in other parts of the world can be a death sentence here. Or missed altogether. And yet so many health issues can be prevented through proper education and better habits.
WE BELIEVE THAT HEALTH AND EDUCATION WORK HAND IN HAND
A HEALTHY DOSE OF PREVENTION
Our Health Clinic provides preventive and primary care, as well as basic health education, to the students and community of Kopila Valley. Staffed by a full-time nurse, a visiting doctor, medical professionals from the local community and volunteers from around the world, the clinic provides an integrated approach to health and well-being for the underserved population of Surkhet. The community clinic combines natural holistic methods and modern Western medical treatments to help the residents and children of the area improve and maintain their quality health.
Our full-time clinic administrator and pharmacist works endlessly to keep the Kopila kids healthy and strong. The main focus is on education and prevention, and we find that we’re able to make a big difference through simple solutions like immunizations, good nutrition, clean water stations, dental hygiene, administering vitamins and regular de-parasiting. We provide the following services for every student at Kopila Valley School:
1- Annual physical examination performed at the start of the school year.
2- Hearing and vision screening program to identify students needing hearing augmentation or visual acuity correction.
3- School-wide anti-parasitic program to decrease intestinal parasites and prevent reintroducing new parasites to the students.
4- Extensive dental hygiene program, including daily tooth brushing at school, dental exams by a local dentist and treatment when necessary.
5- Tuberculosis screening program to identify cases of active TB and stem the spread in our area.
A COMMITMENT TO MENTAL HEALTH
Many of our children and women face daily battles of stress, depression or other mental health concerns. The consequences can be startling: suicide is the number one killer for girls in Nepal. When a child decides to take her own life as the only way out, something must be done. We opened Surkhet’s first Mental Health and Counseling Center in 2013 as a way to start addressing this important issue, and provide another way for women and children to reach out for help.
We perform basic first aid for minor injuries and early treatment for common conditions like mild pneumonia or skin infections. Children suffering more serious or life-threatening conditions – and we’ve unfortunately had our fair share over the years – are brought to the local regional government hospital, Nepal Ganj, and at times Kathmandu or even the U.S. in special cases of extreme generosity.
“The world will change when our girls and our women are educated.” -Maggie Doyne
WHY WE BUILT THE KOPILA VALLEY WOMEN’S CENTER
While Nepal’s patriarchal society is slowly fading and disparities between men and women narrow, there is still a clear gap in gender equality. Most of the women in Surkhet struggle to make a living. They do intense physical labor. They farm. They break stones. They walk miles to the jungle for firewood to cook meals. When we talk to mothers, we hear stories of abuse, deprivation and loss. And yet these women are the strongest on Earth. They don’t complain. They just move ever forward, dreaming of brighter days and seeking an opportunity to feed and educate their children, to keep them healthy and strong. The goal of our center is to provide that opportunity and those bright days.
WE BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF WOMEN
WORKING TOGETHER TOWARDS A COMMON GOAL
When women are educated and empowered, only then can we make steps to alleviate poverty, find gender equality and foster a thriving community. At the Women’s Center, we work together to shape the curriculum and offer the best opportunities for development and daily inspiration.
1- Our classes cover a range of topics, including parenting, human rights, health, stress management and self-confidence.
2- Vocational training includes sewing, cooking, gardening, husbandry, computer education, business and entrepreneurship.
3- We spend a lot of time on literacy, helping the women read and write in both Nepali and English.
THE MAGIC WE’RE MAKING EVERY DAY
The Women’s Center is a simple space to convene, learn, share and create. Even though they are from different age groups, villages and castes – and only a few have ever been to school before – the women are working together as one. It’s magical to watch them grow, give back and smile like never before. Here’s what we’re doing:
1- Sewing the school uniforms, backpacks, sweaters and warm winter pajamas for our children and students.
2- Manufacturing cost-effective and environmentally friendly sanitary pads, which the women sell at local markets (most women in the community don’t have access to hygienic sanitary pads).
3- Inspiring the next generation by showing them that an education is the best way to break down social and economic barriers. Our women are working to ensure their own girls are educated, which reduces the risk of exploitation, encourages delayed childbirth and ultimately leads to a more skilled and productive labor force in the community.
“We can all be human on this earth again.” -Maggie Doyne
Together, we have built an amazing place here in Nepal. Kopila Valley is home to a special community where everyone lives with a deep sense of love, acceptance and respect. That respect extends to our environment. We know that if we don’t care for the world around us, we won’t be able to keep living in the world around us. It’s really that simple.
WHY SUSTAINABILITY IS SO IMPORTANT AT KOPILA VALLEY
Nepal can often be a harsh place. Like many impoverished nations trying to catch up with the rest of the world, the environment often takes a backseat to development and the need to grow faster. In Kopila Valley, we think being pro-Earth works hand-in-hand with making progress. Sustainability is a primary part of our mission and a key element of our growth. We strive to create a healthy, beautiful and enduring environment for our children and community today – and in the future.
WE BELIEVE THAT A BEAUTIFUL, ENDURING ENVIRONMENT WILL CREATE A MORE SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY
A COMMUNITY COMMITTED TO THE FUTURE
Is it a challenge to stay green with so many kids running around and so many moving parts? Absolutely. But we work as one big family to develop a sustainable community for all of us. Here’s how:
We maintain a large garden that supplies healthy, organic fruits and vegetables to our school lunch program, which serves over 400 hot meals each day, and we compost what isn’t used.
We source rice – we cook A LOT of rice every day – from nearby farms.
We use solar panels and biogas to keep the Children’s Home and Kopila Valley School’s carbon footprint low.
We teach our children and students how to live sustainably and share knowledge around important environmental issues.
When we first started this community, we felt strongly that we must build from within rather than lean too much on outside help. That philosophy continues today. We are bringing in local stakeholders in the design, planning and development of our new Kopila Valley School. We are sourcing local and recycled materials, as well as hiring local labor for our construction team. We are seeking sustainable solutions to build a high performing, energy efficient school for our students and teachers.
OPENING SOON: NEPAL’S MOST GREEN SCHOOL
The new home of Kopila Valley School has given us the opportunity to unleash our creativity and apply the latest innovations in green development. We believe that, together, we can create something truly unique by combining local resources – surveyors, civil engineers, architects and construction teams – with sustainable design. Structurally, we envision a holistic school using local materials that naturally fit in with the local aesthetic and culture. On that note, our school property touches the ground of the oldest and most original Hindu temple in the valley. As with everything we do, we will be respectful of local traditions.
We want to build this school to last a lifetime so are focused on durability, conservation and longevity, and on making sure the structures are sound enough to handle earthquakes and monsoons. To achieve this goal, our team is utilizing a natural building method called rammed earth construction to build strong walls without the need for heavy machinery. We will also continue to utilize solar energy on the new campus.
Choosing the best construction materials – while staying mindful of cost, environmental considerations, and local availability – also requires creativity. We’ve explored a range of options, including:
1- Bamboo – of course!
2- Stone, clay, mud, grass, and other earth elements according to local tradition – as long as they don’t compromise structural integrity or maintenance needs.
3- Plastics, recycled materials, old tires, tin, and other metals.
To further our sustainability mission, we want to make sure our students feel like they are one with nature. So we want to bring the outdoors in and the indoors out by using plenty of natural light inside and building outdoor classrooms with grasses and wood. After all, a breath of fresh air is good for everyone.
“Is there something that you can do to change the life of just one child?”
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