Not many Nigerians have heard about her. But everyone should absorb the heroics of Maggie Doyne, a 28-year-old woman from a little town in New Jersey, United States. She has dramatised, in this age of subversive youth, that we can raise the young on love and not on guns.
Her story also should instruct the wealthy among us as well as our flowery churches that money does not have to be much to do much. Doyne started as a regular American who wanted to excel in life and soar to success as defined by folks around her. Go to university, get a good job, get married and have children, retire and die. She thought all that was all fluff as glitz. She abhorred routine glory.
One morning, she unbuttoned her dreams to her parents that she did not want to go to the university. She took a year off to see the world. On the wings of a programme known as LeapNow, she travelled to India. After much fun around the country, she wanted to volunteer for children. She heard of a home in northeast India. She helped take care of the kids on behalf of an absentee manager. But then her eyes opened to a developing nightmare.
Children mushroomed into India from a neighbouring country called Nepal where a civil war raged. The children were specimens of tragedy: hungry, wiry, skeletal, illiterate, parentless. But their faces painted vistas of cherubic pleas. They needed help. Fate planted her from America, a velvet of opulence, onto a monochrome of want. She had to rise to the occasion.
But for the kids, merely arriving northern India, away from the turbulence and offal of war, amounted to salvation. Not for Doyne, who had befriended a Nepali woman. She accompanied her to Nepal during a ceasefire, and that was when her story of philanthropy began.
She observed a young girl among several who broke stones for a few rupees, about a dollar a day. Her humanity beckoned her. She had to help, and she adopted her and put her in a school. For all its breath-taking topography, mountains, valleys, lands of picturesque diversity, its children squeaked.
Her soul squeaked with them. She came upon a land for sale, and she remembered that she had saved $5,000 in the U.S. as a babysitter. She called her parents to wire the money to her, and she bought the land. She wanted to build a home. She could not go far with the resources in her hands.
She returned to New Jersey to work as baby sitter, so she could make enough to complete the home. She duelled in the summer but the money she made was barely enough. She organised a garage sale by picking up junk not only from her home but also from neighbours. She wanted to make $1300. She hit the target and completed the home for 50 children, although it started with 44 in 2008.
The place is called Kopila Valley Children’s Home. She cares for all of them. They are orphans and children of the abandoned. Her story resonated around northeast U.S. Some newspapers reported her heroics. Different persons and groups in the U.S. donated to her cause.
With donations, she started a primary school known as Kopila Valley Primary School. The school took on 220 students, basically of children who were either orphaned or destitute. Most of them were the first in their families to enjoy the virtue of an education. The school provided a meal a day and free healthcare.
That is why the idea that Governor Ambode is about to start in Lagos with a meal a day in schools should gain traction here. Governor Rauf Aregbesola has been at it. But for it to start in Lagos with its massive population and expense will make it a flagship for education around the country. The Buhari administration will be a co-sponsor but the states will bear the torch and burden.
Doyne’s school children are totally bilingual. They learn in English and Nepali, and they benefit from a creative approach to education. Apart from the basic classes, they are awash in literature, art, poetry, theatre, music and sports. The primary school is a first-rate school in the country today. In 2012-2013 when its 8th grade students wrote their first national exam, all the students were in the top 10 per cent, while 50 per cent of them were in the top one per cent. It ranks first in the region.
Every year, an avalanche of applicants seeks rooms in her school, a testament to quality and fidelity to standards. Above all, it is a deference to her humanism. She came from elsewhere to breathe joy and life to a scorched and tormented landscape. She lifted the children, healed their bones, nourished their minds and watered their path to the future.
She is not rich, only her soul is rich. She, a foreigner, turned suffering into an alien for many. She planted a mustard seed in a place called Kopila Valley. Kopila means bud. The children are in bloom.
This contrasts with billionaires in this country who care only for family and more billions. It is not like the flamboyant churches who build schools for the rich or charge fees that crack the backs of the poor. In the beginning there was nothing. Today, Kopila Valley is a landscape of love bearing tomorrow’s genius.
We should not underestimate where good can come from. Doyne had parents who encouraged her sense of humanistic adventure. They disdained friends who wondered why they allowed their daughter to move 8,000 miles away. Today, she has raised money from different sources. When those over 350 kids eat, think, play and laugh, there is no question how it started. She, a muscular Mother Theresa in bud, saw a need and fulfilled it.
In his short fiction titled Model Millionaire, Oscar Wilde recounts the story of a millionaire who dressed like a beggar so an artist could draw him. A certain man who saw him took pity on him, and gave him the last money he had. The millionaire was impressed and learned later that the benefactor was poor and could not afford even his upcoming wedding. The millionaire surprised him by bankrolling his wedding with extra to start a life.
There is a lot of wealth lying inside rags, like Kopila Valley. “Millionaire models are rare enough,” wrote Wilde, “but, by jove, model millionaires are rarer still.” We want model millionaires now in Nigeria. Too many poor sulk today. Let us take advantage of this season to start again, for good.