People 11 September 2017
When I first met Maggie Doyne, I didn't realize how much she would impact my life. It was 2007 and I was working in my first reporter job for a small New Jersey newspaper called The Observer Tribune.
During my tenure there, I'd write about such non-events as duck pond dredging, holiday parades, fundraisers, school board meetings and statue dedications. This job might have given me the chops to seek out and write my own stories, but the good ones weren't easy to find.
I heard about Maggie via a spotty voicemail that I'd been left by an anonymous tipster. I could barely make out the message: "Amazing story. You must meet Maggie" along with a 6-digit phone number, and static rather than a final digit. I left messages on multiple voice mailboxes in search of my mystery protagonist, and a few days later got a call from Maggie herself. I was so excited to hear what the story was all about, so we set up a meeting at a local coffee shop, where she promised to tell me everything.
When we met I was immediately struck at how young and bubbly she was. She seemed more like a college student preparing for freshman year than a girl on the brink of changing the world. Just 20 years old at the time, Maggie sat down and unfurled a large sheet of paper, which contained the blueprints for a large building. I was immediately intrigued, and then she began speaking.
Maggie standing in the foundation of what will become Kopila Valley Children's Home
Unlike the other young ladies with similar upbringings to Maggie and myself, Maggie decided to forgo the traditional collegiate path of an upwardly mobile young adult and instead spent a year volunteering in an orphanage in India. There she met a Nepalese girl who asked Maggie to accompany her to her homeland in search of her family, whom she had been separated from due to civil war. Maggie and her new young friend trekked for two full days, eventually landing at the foothills of the Himalayas in a world far from anything Maggie had ever known.
Over our coffees, Maggie's demeanor got more serious, as she told me that what she saw shook her to her very core; orphaned babies, children, and teens alike living on the street, performing manual labor just to survive. She explained that the war in Nepal had left more 50,000 children, including orphans, ex-child soldiers and victims of sex trafficking, to fend for themselves. She told me how devastated she was to see a reality that she never knew existed, and how she felt she could never go back to her old life again.
"I had to do something," Maggie said to me with defiance and certainty. And that she did. Rather than coming back to her comfortable suburban existence, Maggie called her parents, and asked them to wire her the only $5,000 she had (saved from babysitting, pet sitting and collecting birthday checks) to buy a plot of land in Surkhet, a small Nepalese district about 400 miles west of Kathmandu. Her plan was clear: buy land, register an NGO, build an orphanage, and give these displaced children the life that she had enjoyed; one that delivered such basic needs as safety, health care, education, and most importantly, love.
My mind was racing. How could such a young girl accomplish all this? It seemed impossible. And yet I just knew that she would. Maggie went on to tell me that her $5,000 investment had only gotten her so far and that she was in New Jersey hoping to raise $50,000 in order to put a roof on her still-hollow children's home. She also was hoping to register her non-profit (which she called BlinkNow to commemorate the fact that she made the decision to change her life's trajectory in the blink of an eye), and create a board of directors. I looked at her in awe, and realized for the first time in my young reporting career, I had a story on my hands that almost literally wrote itself.
Unsurprisingly Maggie's story struck a chord with the community. After the piece came out, medical companies from the area donated supplies, local artists offered paintings for the not-yet-built walls, and cash began trickling its way in. When Maggie called me and said thanks to the exposure, she was well on her way to her $50,000 goal, I realized the power of storytelling, and became convinced it was my life's passion. The article, of course, was picked up quickly by the press; next by The Star Ledger, and then The New York Times.
Fast forward to now, and Maggie has accomplished more than is fathomable by even high ranking government bodies. She is the legal guardian to 50 children who call her "Maggie mom," and lives in a growing four-level house filled with colorful murals, flavorful cooking, singing, dancing and a host of special family traditions. In 2010 she opened the doors to Kopila Valley School, which is today attended by more than 350 Nepalese children, most of whom are the first in their families to ever be educated. Maggie has become fluent in Nepali and made sure to hire a 90 percent Nepalese staff, in order to help create local jobs. If that's not enough, Maggie has also built a community health clinic, Women's Center, and broken ground on Kopila Valley High School. Clearly there is no stopping the power of this young woman's determination to change the lives of so many children. I to this day well up when I think about the love that will follow Maggie throughout her life, not to mention the sheer number of future adults who will no doubt care for and cherish Maggie forever. The ramifications of her love are widespread indeed.
Since our 2007 conversation, Maggie's remarkable story has won her everything from CosmoGirl of the Year in 2008 to the Forbes Excellence in Education Award in 2013 to CNN Hero of The Year in 2015. She has spoken at various high-profile events, including the Forbes Women's Summit, and in 2014 was presented with the Unsung Hero of Compassion, awarded by the Dalai Lama.
After seeing Maggie's social media announcement that she is expecting a baby with her fiancé, filmmaker Jeremy Power Regimbal, and realizing it's been a full decade since we've spoken, I thought it would be a good time to catch up with my lifelong inspiration. Here, Maggie shares what life is like today.
Why did you decide to launch your own charity initiative rather than becoming part of an already existing one?
I was young when I first started and I had this vision for what I wanted a children's home and school to look like. My vision was different from all the existing charities I had come across, and that's why I decided to create my own.
You started when you were just 19, did you know what you were getting into, and how have you navigated seeing through such a huge goal?
When I first started, I don't think that I fully realized what I was getting into. I always say that I had the benefit of being young and naive. It was simple, I saw a problem that I wanted to fix, so I got to work. This isn't to say that it was all easy. There were many setbacks but I was resilient and focused - two other benefits of being young.
Can you speak about winning the hero of the year? What did it mean to you, what did it mean to your kids?
Maggie winning CNN's Hero Of The Year award
Winning the CNN Hero award was such an incredible moment for all of us in Nepal. I think we were all so proud of our work and so happy to have an opportunity to share our story with the world.
With over four dozen children who call you mom, do you you ever feel overwhelmed? How do your spread your time?
I think all moms get overwhelmed, whether you have 1 or 50. I do have moments, but I have a great team that supports me. We have Nepali caregivers, aunties and uncles who are always there for the children. It's not just me, it's a big team, and we all raise the children together.
You've created such an amazing family, can you talk about some of the family traditions that you have?
We've developed so many great traditions over the years but one I am most proud of is our nightly satsung tradition. Every evening after dinner we all meet for a family meeting where we sing songs, talk about our day, and discuss plans for the week. It's our family ritual and I am always amazed to see my youngest, just as engaged as my oldest. It's a special time.
Maggie and her fiancé, Jeremy.
Do you teach English or Nepali in the school?
We teach both Nepali and English in our school.
What subjects do you teach in the school and who are the teachers?
We teach the traditional courses math, science, social studies, language etc. We also offer extracurricular activities like dance, music, art and computer skills. We have an amazing team of teachers. Our principal has done a great job of finding wonderful Nepali teachers from all over the country.
Can you speak about some of the ways you integrate the Nepalese culture into the home and school?
The Nepalese culture is a huge part of life at the Kopila Valley Children's Home and School - from the food we eat, to the games we play, the holidays we celebrate and the curriculum we follow.
Has it been hard to learn the language?
I learned Nepali pretty quickly out of necessity. It was how I was able to communicate with my team and the community where I started the Kopila Valley Children's Home and School.
In a nutshell can you tell us a day in your life.
My days in Nepal are pretty busy. I usually start by waking the kids up and checking on them as they get ready for school. I sit with them as they eat breakfast and then see them off to school. Once they are at school that's when I start my work - checking email, taking calls, touching base with the US team. I usually have meetings at the school, the new campus or at the women's center. After the kids get home from school, I try to spend time with them before they have their quiet reading time. After dinner and our daily family meeting, I read to the kids before bed and if it's not too late, sometimes we can sneak in a dance party.
Congratulations on your upcoming wedding, how did the kids react?
Thank you! We are so excited. The kids knew before I did! My fiancé, Jeremy, asked the kids for permission during his last visit. They are all so happy - they love Jeremy as much as I do.
Being that your fiancé is a filmmaker can you tell us a little about the project you're working on?
We are working on a film called Love Letters For My Children. It's a documentary about my journey and the special relationship I have with my children. We are really excited about it and can't wait to share it with everyone.
What piece of advice would you give yourself if you were starting the journey all over again?
I think I would tell my younger self that there is nothing she can't get through when she has the support of family, friends and community.
You're living such a different reality from a 30-year-old woman in the U.S, do you ever miss it at all?
My life's journey has been different from the average 30-year-old woman in the U.S., but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
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With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.
When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.
Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan
Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.
Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.
The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.
Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits
The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.
With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.
Tip 3: Start slow and strong
If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.
Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.
Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize
In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.
When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.
Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness
From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.
Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.
Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.
A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.
Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition
In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.
If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health
While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.
For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.
While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.