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Thursday
Feb132014

Meet our Home Fellow: Caroline Porter

Our Home Fellow Caroline Porter grew up in Virginia and went to college in South Carolina. She discovered her passion for traveling when she spent a post-graduate year teaching English in Argentina and Peru. Once back in the States, she settled in Denver, and while she loves the region and hopes to eventually return, she jumped at the opportunity to apply to Kopila once she heard about the program. As with Caroline’s previous travels, she hopes to push herself out of her comfort zone, thus expanding her conception and appreciation for cultural diversity.  Caroline believes that embracing and understanding cultural differences is imperative for advancing the increasingly global society we are all a part of today.  Along with developing her own personal perceptive, she hopes the children can learn as much from her as she will from them. In her words, “Although our upbringings were significantly different, the students have the same ability to learn and grow as I do.  Individual talents are not segregated by nationality, race or wealth.  I feel that my time in Nepal will be equally beneficial for the students as well as the fellows and an experience none of us will forget.”

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From Maggie: As you can see from the photos Caroline exudes a warmth and nurturing spirit that makes her a wonderful home fellow and mother figure to the kids. Look at her wearing that mumu for goodness sakes! Caroline's smile is contagious and her disposition with the children is always genuine and loving. Caroline will be the first to tell you that she is NOT a morning person.But no matter what, she wakes up in her mumu, lemon tea in hand and makes sure all of the kids have breakfast, brush their teeth, do their duties, and are dressed and ready lined up at the gate for school.  She is also a certified ESL teacher and stellar in the classroom.  It's been especially sweet to watch Caroline help with Manisha's transition into our home after the loss of her mother.  Late nights, early mornings, homework, discipline, family meetings and keeping the house in order.  Caroline really does it all and I am so thankful to have her by my side. 


Wednesday
Feb122014

kabita + nisha

Hi everyone!  Maggie here. I'm in the states for a short visit! So thrilling to see Nisha and Kabita and hear all of their insights on life here. What an incredible opporunity they've been given. Nisha, her principal and I all had a meeting yesterday and I read through her report card from her teachers. I'm so proud of the hard work they have both been doing in school.  Kabita's spine has just about healed and she grew two inches. It took everything in me not to burst into crocodile tears when I saw her. Just a note to say I'm feeling extra blessed. And how about all this snow? What I'd give for all 44 of my kids here for some sledding.  

Stay warm, big love, and a big thank you to absolutely everyone in our BlinkNow Family! Also hi to all new readers and kids from Mount Saint Mary's, Dalton, and Friend's Seminary. I really enjoyed our time together this week. Thank you for having me at your schools :)

Wednesday
Feb052014

store

The little ones' favorite thing to do right now is play "store."  They make a little shop in the side yard and find things to sell.  Rocks, wood chips, flowers.  I walked over there last week to check it out and realized that my favorite water bottle was "for sale!"  Little sneaksters.  Maya is always like "sorry, no discounts!"

Thursday
Jan302014

reality

My post yesterday sparked a discussion on facebook that I welcomed and engaged in. I also thought about the comments that were made quite a bit today. I was crossing over this bridge on my way home from town and spotted these three little girls sifting through garbage and sewage and you know what I thought? I have to use my voice for them, because if I don't then who will?

I recognize that everyone's reality is different, but this is the reality of these three girls and it's something that's really twisted in our world that we need to look at. It's injustice. There is no reason why these girls should have to work in a sewage dump every day. I use my journal to talk about the positive and the good, to instill hope in you all and to convince you that fighting this fight is so darn worth it. I've devoted my life to this cause and I want you to too. I write about my incredibly adorable, smart, and hilarious 44 children. I write about how well my students are doing in school. I write about how AMAZING our team is and my dreams and goals for the future. My instagram feed is FILLED with pictures of stunning faces, and beautiful scenery, and himalayan skylines and cute baby goats. But there's a HUGE part of my reality here that looks exactly like this picture you see right here. There is so much I don't write about because it's just too hard. But you know what I'm starting to realize? Just like I take pictures of the mountains, I have to take these pictures too. Because the only other option is too look away and not do anything about it, or talk about it, and pretend that these girls' lives don't matter.  

I will be as honest as I absolutely can be, while using discernment and respecting my children's privacy but I will not sugar coat the reality of the world that I live in and the lives of girls and women here. And I will not simply talk about the good and the positive because it is part of my responsibility as a citizen on this earth to shine a light on the darkness and to do something about it.  

I'm especially sensitive right now because I feel a sense of urgency to speak up for the women in my women's center whose husbands beat them every day and for the girls at Shambat Center I just met who were married off as children. I have to speak up for the 13-year-old who Magdalena and I bought back this week for 5,000 rupees, after she was given away. We payed her "owner" 5,000 rupees, the equivalent of 50$, so she could come back to our women's center, go to school, live with her 3 little sisters, and not have to work for food and 15 cents a day. There should not be one child on the face of this planet who has to face that reality and I will write about it now and forever.  

Wednesday
Jan292014

i'm the only woman driver in my town

In our entire Midwestern Development region of Nepal with a few million people, I'm the only woman driver that I've ever seen.  For whatever reason, I've been thinking about how messed up that is lately.  It started to hit me whenever I jumped in the car to run errands or on one of the motorcycles to drive over to the new property.  I watched Gagan Uncle pull out of our driveway the other day on one of our motorcycles and remembered how I taught a him and a bunch of the uncles how to drive our first scooter a few years ago.  We were all laughing so hard watching them drive in circles around our dusty playground while I ran by their sides on foot yelling directions.  I was thinking about it the other day when the kopila women were all on their way to a picnic.  They asked me to drive them over in the car and they watched me try to teach Prem Uncle how to drive a stick.  He's still learning and when he stalled a couple of times I jumped in the car and drove them myself.  How nice it is to be able to get in the car and get where you need to go.  I don't know why it's taken me 27 years to realize what a privelege that is.  I still notice the looks I get when I'm out running errands.  Men and women look at me like I have some sort of superpowers and admittedly I kind of like it.

My Nepali women friends and neighbors all describe me as being really masculine.  If you asked them to describe me in 3 words, I bet you anything that one of the first things they would say is that I'm "manly."  I think maybe because I've always had the ability to talk to men as an equal, face to face.  I've always been able make them question their thinking and see things another way.  I used to tell the "Maggie is like a man" anecdote and sort of laugh about it.  My friends from NJ and anyone who knows me well would NEVER describe me as being masculine.  I'm not even sure I know what defines maculinity and femininity but I'm really starting to realize that some of the rights, priveleges and opportunities I've been given have made me who I am and granted me the power to do what I do.  When you have certain skills, it means you bring something to the table and even if it's something as simple as being able to drive, you're more valued.  I won the birth lottery and if you're a woman reading this right now you probably did too.

People always ask me, "how did you do it, being such a young woman and all?" and  "what was it like starting a project in a patriarchal culture and society?"  Mostly I answer that being a woman has been an advantage for me here.  But the more I think about it, it was the opportunities I was given as a woman that have given me the rights and the respect I've earned.  It was the opportunity to sit in a driver's ed class and get my driver's permit at 16, my license at 17, and drive the car that my sisters and I shared.  It was being able to make choices for myself since I was five, and engage in discussions in a family where everyone was heard and what you had to say mattered.  It was being able to lift weights in the weight room at my high school with the football team after sports practices.  It was coaches and teachers who made me push myself whether it be engaging in a debate during class or coaching me through the last minute of an intense lacrosse game where you left it all on the field.  Sometimes when Magdalena and I ask the women the most simple questions like, what's your opinion, what do you think?  what's your goal?  what do you want?  they honest to goodness look at us like they've never been asked a question before where they were entitled to an opinion.  It's the scariest thing in the world to me.

When a woman sees me driving here, the reaction is always the same.  They ask me in a shocked voice, "you can drive?!?" I tell them that where I come from, many women drive.  I explain how in 11th grade we take a four month course called Driver's Ed and then a car comes to school and it has two sets of stearing wheels and two sets of brakes and a guy drives around with you for 6 hours and teaches you the rules of the road.  Then your mom takes you to empty parking lots on the weekends and lets you practice.  After you get the parking lot down, she takes you on the roads and finally she teaches you how to merge onto the highway.  After a year, you go and take an exam and if you pass you get a license with your name and birthdate, and photo on it.

"I'm not special and I don't have a superpower," I tell them.  "Where I come from almost every woman my age can drive.  You could too."  

The women look at me, eyes wide, like I come from another planet.  Most of them don't have a single document acknowleging their existence.  Magdalana and my dad have given some of them the first photographs that they've ever had of themselves.    There's something really strange about that.

Bottom line, the more I get to know the women in my community and in our women's center, the more I realize how lucky I am.  Every time I sit in a driver's seat now I realize what an incredible gift it is that I can actually drive.  Every time I read a sign board or an article in the paper, I realize what a gift it is that I can read.  Every time I see a woman carrying 100 pounds of firewood on her back from a day spent in the jungle, or a huge load of rice on her back, I feel a little pang of something in my stomach.  I think it's the realization that I come from such a different reality and even after 8 years in Nepal, I still can't get my head around that.  I want my daughters to drive.  I want them to ride scooters and motorcycle and bicycles.  Is it totally out of this world insane to say that I want Driver's Ed at Kopila High School?  I want to keep fighting for a world where every girl is given the opportunities I was given.  With each passing day I'm more and more convinced that it's possible.  

Mother daughter