By Alice Roche Cody
It all started with three GSB friends wanting to make a difference on campus during the pandemic. Lily Micera '22, Lea Gnoy '22, and Kayla Palaia '22 brainstormed about starting a club that featured different cultures, and they also wanted to focus on community service work. Their solution – a blend of both.
"We decided to combine our two ideas into a Global Awareness Club," said Lily. "Our goal is to broaden people's perspectives and to step outside our bubble."
Recently, the three leaders gave fellow students the perfect opportunity to broaden their scope by welcoming philanthropist Maggie Doyne as a virtual guest speaker. After graduating high school in 2005, Ms. Doyne took a gap year to travel and ended up in the foothills of the Himalayas, eventually establishing a Children's Home, Women's Center, Big Sisters' Home, and the Kopila Valley School. Doyne – named the 2015 Hero of the Year by CNN – also founded BlinkNow, a nonprofit that provides financial support for her community-building efforts in Surkhet, Nepal.
"I went to Mendham high school and was stressed out about the SATs and getting good grades so I could get into a good school and be on track for success," said Doyne, via Zoom. "I knew a lot of AP History, but not who I was. To figure that out for myself, I wanted to travel and leave the bubble and see what was out there. When everyone else was setting up their dorms, I packed up my backpack." In her travels, she surfed in Australia, rebuilt a seawall in Fiji, and ended up in Northeast India for a semester, working with Nepali refugees. Then Ms. Doyne trekked with her friend, Sunita, to her friend's remote village in Nepal that was torn apart by a civil war.
What Ms. Doyne saw – the poverty and hardship and resilience – changed her life.
She watched orphan children huddled on the riverbed, breaking rocks into gravel for hours. There was a young girl carrying a 100-pound load on her back, to and from the bus station all day long. "When I was her age, I was on a soccer field, and I had teachers and parents and race and privilege," she said. "I felt it was my responsibility to do something."
People often ask Ms. Doyne about the moment when she knew she had to act. "On the riverbed, looking at the little girls and boys, and realizing the reality of a kid to survive," she said. "Their greatest wish was to go to school and read and write and put on uniform."
She started with one child, a girl named Hema, who wore an orange dress. "I couldn't do anything for the thousands of kids, but what if I started by giving one kid an education?" Especially in Nepal, even a few years of primary education proves a game-changer for girls.
"I put Hema into school," she said, adding that school fees cost $6 and her uniform $7. "I trimmed her hair, got lice out. Everything changed. She became a glowing, beaming, happy child. I thought, 'What if I could walk along the riverbed and not see a single child breaking rocks?' How would I imagine that world?"
Soon she created an NGO and helped enroll more children in school. "This led me to think about sustained growth and the tiers of need," she said, "You start at the bottom. If you don't deliver clean water, the kids won't live until age 5. Going to school is the icing on the cake. First you have to address their health needs and put a roof over their heads. We wanted to build a center to address the holistic needs of the most vulnerable children."
Ms. Doyne then returned to the United States and gathered her life's savings from birthdays and babysitting. She educated herself by reading numerous books. And she raised funds from family, friends, and her community, including her neighbors at Gill St. Bernard's.
"Within a year, we had our children's home built in Nepal," she said. "These kids needed a safe place to live, and I wanted to replicate the love and support I had growing up with my family." She and her team set out to rethink orphan care, striving to create a haven of love and safety. "We brought joy and kite flying and healthy food to make it a home. We call it home. I became a mom to many children, many times over." Ms. Doyne and her husband recently had a baby to add to her ever-growing family.
So far, Ms. Doyne has provided a home to more than 55 children, and many have headed to college, including Hema, who studies hospitality. The school Ms. Doyne founded enrolls 500 students and continues to expand.
"No longer are children breaking rocks on riverbed," she said. "My dream has been realized."
Ms. Doyne encouraged GSB students to create their own story. "I went 8,000 miles away, but you don't have to go 8,000 miles away to make a difference. This is my story. I'm excited to see your story."
For Lily, Global Awareness Club co-leader, Ms. Doyne's story proved motivational. "Maggie's talk was a really good pivot point for us to start thinking beyond what we experience and our own lives," she said. "The biggest take away is that anyone can make a difference. Her dedication and humbleness are amazing, and I hope that anyone listening felt inspired to do something themselves. Each person has an impact to make. I hope everyone chooses to make an impact in the footsteps of Maggie, no matter how small or on what path they choose to take."