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First day of school and YOU!

Photo by Sherry Sutton Photography! Makes me so happy.

We posted our new students for admission on the gate on Friday and it felt so good.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I'm thankful for my team here on the ground for working so hard.  Without everyone's input and all hands-on-deck it wouldn't have been possible.  We are getting ready for our first day of school over, doing our teacher in-service, and planning some fun first-week-of-school and orientation activities.  We were thinking that when we choose "houses" for the new kids on Friday, we'll have a sorting hat!

Yesterday all the aunties and the kids deep cleaned the school.  It was dusty and worn from summer vacation.  The painter is here freshening up with some paint.  The carpenters are making more desks.  There are bird nests everywhere in this little bamboo school of ours.  Tope joked today that we have bird production business going on the side :)  We're ordering backpacks and books and school shoes.  It's a really exciting time of year at Kopila.  We are all happy and ready to bring it on.

Although this week was kind of a roller coast of emotions, I'm feeling happy today and I wouldn't have gotten here without all of YOU!   This week on the first day of school, we'll be launching a new website, moving over to a new journal and I am just so excited because the time has finally come to graduate from this blog.  But before we flick the big switch I want to thank you.

You check in on us, and help us spread our message and story on our Facebook page, and twitter, and instagram.  It may sound silly but when even when you “like” our status, or write a comment, it really makes my day. 

You donate, you fundraise, you organize campaigns and host dinners and run races, and make things to sell.  You give up your birthdays.  You tell all your friends about BlinkNow everywhere you go– so much so, that you can tell your friends are getting a little tired of hearing it :)  I am so incredibly touched.   

You little girls and boys who cheer us on, who sell lemonade, and make rainbow loom bracelets and do bake sales, and penny drives, mail us letters and follow along on Kopila buds!  I show my kids and they hang your pictures and your letters up in their bedrooms.  You make us smile.    

I know a single mom with three kids who donates whenever she can and a waitress who gives us a portion of the tips she makes.  There are family foundations who include us in their annual giving, book clubs, rotary clubs, youth groups, and girl scouts.  You have entrusted us to choose the poorest of the poor, the neediest of the needy and change their lives and to make the world better.  You have enabled me to mother 40+ children.  Your charity, your prayers, your investment in my children, means the world to me and to all of us.

Sometimes I get so caught up in the work that I forget to tell you.  I forget to tell you how you make every single little thing possible here. Honestly I feel a little spoiled sometimes.  I’m the one who gets to tuck the kids into bed under their mosquito nets, and sign the checks in the checkbook that buys our students new school shoes, or sweaters, medicines, or medical surgeries, that taught 60 women how to read and write and sew and launch future careers this year. This week we paid a plumber who fixed our toilets when they got clogged and the milk man who delivers our milk.  I paid the farmer for his rice and the woman selling bananas out of a basket.  And then I sat at the table and watch my kids eat together.  I get to soak up all your generosity and watch it move into action.

I've been watching the truck and tractor loads of bricks and stone and cement that keep coming in to build this new beautiful school of ours that will allow us to expand and grow and continue to spread our roots.   I watch the piles of rocks dump out of the truck and dug into the ground for a strong foundation. 

I get busy.  I don’t always write back.  I don’t always say yes to every request but I need you to know that you’re everything to me and to my kids, absolutely everything, and there’s not a night that I don’t lay my head on my pillow and think of you.  I am thankful you're by our side no matter where you are in the world.  Thanks for being on our team.  Thanks for making our world better and helping me care for our little ones.

Nothing but gratitude today.  

xoxo Maggie


How we pick.

We have our new student picks for the school year pretty much narrowed down. The process has been long and tedious and emotional. For the past month we have been screening through applicants to determine who is eligible to apply. We do radio and newspaper announcements to cast a wide net and be sure that word gets out to the far corners of the district. We receive application forms for about a month which gives eligible applicants enough time to spread the word and for applicants to get all the necessary documents together. During pre-screening prospective students assemble all their documents, parent’s death certificates, recommendation letters from local government officials, application form and photo. If the children meet all of our criteria and can apply we accept their applications in a file. We had just over 300 applicantfiles this year that Ganga so awesomely went through and put into piles. 

The next step is an initial interview where we review the documents for a second time with the admissions committee. Our committee is divided into four interview teams, each of which made up of 1 administrator, 1 teacher, 1 board member and 1 volunteer who collectively need to make a decision on whether the child should move onto the next round. If the child makes it through to round 2, a “home visit” team goes to gather information on the child’s living conditions. Nine times out of ten the home visit team comes back and report that “yes, we have to pick this one!” but occasionally by doing a home visit and talking to villagers we’re able to eliminate a child with a story that doesn’t line up. 

I keep the master list and throughout the day the fellows and teachers and board members come up to me attached to the certain kids they’ve gotten to know throughout the process over the last few days.  

“Please tell me that little girl with the blind dad from Mugu got in.” 

"Do you any of the siblings with the big brother who breaks stones to support them got in?"

"What about the little girl with the round cheeks and the pig tails?"

"What about the boy with those scratches all over his face?”

Because there are 300 applicants for 30 seats my responses over the last few days were mostly, 

“Nope, they just got cut,” and after being really sure that we made some good decisions, I’d go back to square one, right back to where we started. 

But I’m breathing. And I’m taking quiet time at the end of each day to listen to music or a podcast.  Last night I sat with the girls on their beds for a little meeting. They wanted to know how it was all going and I told them how I felt and how much work we still have to do in the world and how they have to use this opportunity to do something good for other kids like them. "We are so lucky. We are so so lucky."  They kept saying.

My sweet Deepak came into the room for two of my final interviews today and had to leave after two. When I saw him at lunch he looked at me with a look of concern on his face, "How will you pick mom? How will you pick?”

Over the past few days I’ve found myself looking at each of my children who I am so utterly in love with and I wonder.  If they had come to me this time would I have picked them? Would I have known? Would they have gotten a chance? And then I stop myself because I know that those thoughts are no good. I know to go with my gut and keep taking it all one step at a time.

I heard a lot of life stories these past few days, widows, beggars, orphans, homelessness, grief, and pain and struggle- and I’m trying to keep it as in perspective as I possibly can. I know when to get up and take a little walk or drink a cup of tea. I’ve done this enough now that I know what to expect and how to prepare and talk my team through every step. My teachers and my board, and my volunteers have been incredible. As the years go by we get more and more experience. It’s not fun but if you keep the focus on the positive, the fact that the kids we pick over the next few days are amongst the poorest most vulnerable children in the entire world and if they make it, they walk their way into a 12+ year scholarship and their lives are about to be changed forever.   

The thing that’s been so inspiring to me over the past few days were people from the community, relatives, villagers, and our neighbors who have stepped up and offered to give some of the orphan applicants a place to live and sleep and a home to live in, should they be selected. That made me feel happy. Nepali people are really truly caring and beautiful and kind and I’ve seen a lot of goodness these past few days too.

Tonight I opened up a book I keep on my bookshelf of Mother Theresa’s private letters and writings.  I always feel kind of strange reading this particular book because before she died, she had asked that her letters not be released. But tonight I was looking for some sort of insight. I opened up to page 176 and read something that broke my heart and spoke to me.  

 “If you only knew what goes on within my heart.—Sometimes the pain is so great that I feel as if everything will break. The smile is a big cloak which covers a magnitude of pains. Pray for me, please."

Oh how I feel for her.  I have definitely had my moments of sadness too this week.  There is extreme poverty and suffering in this world.  I've found the best medicine has been to focus on how things can change! They are changing.  Enrolling a child into school to me is the answer.  


Admissions 2014

It’s admissions week over here, the time of year when I’m tempted to adopt at least 5 more kids, build another classroom onto the school, another bedroom onto the house, and think about where I can squeeze just one more bunk bed.  It’s hard no matter how you slice it, even with all the procedures and board meetings, and even though we do this every single year and should know what to expect by now.
I took the boys out shopping in downtown Surkhet last week so they could each get a new t-shirt and pair of shorts because these boys of mine like to wear the same t-shirt every day until it’s worn to shreds and they were all starting to look pretty shredded.  I was in a shop with 11 of them trying to try on clothes and the shop keeper smiled and made a joke about how we have a big family.
Naveen was standing next to me.
“Mom?" he said. 
“Yah?" I asked
"Two words."  
“Family. planning.”
We both laughed so hard.  Me and my family planning.
Admissions goes like this...
We divide our admissions committee into 4 teams.  Each team is comprised of a fellow, an administrator, a board member and a teacher who interview, assess, and review the documents of the applicants and then as a team have to collectively rank the child based on need.  The interviews last about 10-15 minutes per child.  We take notes and try to gather as much info as we can before phase 2 which is a placement exam and a home visit.  I was really proud of our pre-screening this year.  
So far I’ve made it through day 2 without having any additional kids move in and today we finalized our short list.  Roma Bhandari, the head of Women and Children’s welfare here in Surkhet came over tonight on her way home from the office.  We sat in my room and drank lemon tea and vented. It felt good to talk to someone who understands.  We’ve done everything we could to make this year go as smoothly as possible and I know we'll get this list down in the next few days to 30 kids whose lives will be changed forever.  
Until then it's alot of deep breaths, meeting after meeting, paperwork, procedures, files and documents galore. Ganga, the teachers, our board, Kelly and the volunteers have all been amazing! Team work is the word.  Team work and family planning.

New Year's Camping

It's still our summer vacation over here.  We made a bucket list for vacation and are slowly but surely making our way through it.  Bucket lists are our new favorite thing these days.  Awesome for big families.  At the start of vacation we make a list of all the things we want to do and accomplish and then slowly chip away at them.  It makes the long summer days go by fast and fun.  Family soccer games, room cleaning competitions, cooking challenges, scavenger hunts and movie marathons.  It's kind of like our own Kopila summer camp over here.

We decided to spend Nepali New Year's on a camping trip with all of the big kids.  It was the perfect little adventure.  We packed up food and survival gear and headed out into the wilderness on our trusted school bus.  Jamie and the volunteers google mapped a potential drop off area and then we all hiked down to the Karnali river.  A path leading down from a teeny tiny village ended up taking us to a little piece of paradise.

We spent the day jumping off of rocks, bird watching, swimming in the river, skipping stones, and doing gymnastics on the sand.  We cooked dinner over the fire, made a failed attempt to catch fish, and made shelters from the jungle.  Poor Krishna Shahi got bit by a scorpion while picking up a rock for our lean-to.  It was actually kind of scary because scorpions in Nepal can be dangerous.  Caroline whipped out her first aid kit, and thankfully Deepak had some ice left in his frozen waterbottle.  We called out to a local guy who happened to be crossing the river on a tube at the perfect moment and he rowed over.  The boys had found and caught the scorpian that bit Krishna and showed it to him and he told us not to worry. He immediately took off the pincher crushed the scorpion up on the rock and rubbed it over Krishna's finger.  Anti-venom?  I'm still not sure if there's anything to be said for this but I've learned in the past that sometimes village remedies are the way to go. At last we called back home to Becky at home who dug out our go to book "where there is no doctor", and as the ibuprofen started to kick in and we all calmed down.   

We made camp fires, sang songs, celebrated Krishna Bogati's birthday, played our favorite music on Kelly's portable speakers and danced around the fire (tribal style.)  When night fall came around it got cold and all we had was our homemade shelters and fires to keep us warm.  Some of the kids stayed up chatting til two in the morning snuggled up in their blankets but eventually everyone fell asleep.  It was the first time in a long time that we've gotten the space to be so together with just the older kids and it was such a treat.  You know how when there's little kids in a family they can sop up a lot of the energy and attention?  No offense to the little kids or anything, we love them, but this trip made us all realize with the kids getting older how important it is for them to have "big kid" time and opportunities.  I've never seen them all so "in their element", Bhakta with the machete climbing in the trees reminded me of how I knew him when we met and seeing how natural they all were gliding up and down the mountain, and how they shrieked with joy jumping into the river, or laughed skipping rocks.  At one point snuggled around the fire watching them all dancing wildly under the full moon, I thought to myself, this is the happiest I've felt in a long long long time.  What a gift to sit under the stars, by the fire, with food in our bellies and water from the river.

When the morning came around we played a little more, packed up camp, and made our way back up up up the mountain.  We got up to the village, drank tea with biscuits, and the bus arrived just in time to take us home.  We all slept the entire two hour ride through the forest back to Kopila HQ, promising ourselves that we would do it all again soon.

It's officially the year 2071 here in Nepal!!!!  Happy NEW YEAR!!!!  Thanks for letting us share our adventure with you. 


We're hiring!

Kopila Valley School is on a hiring spree for up and coming school year.  We're looking for outside the box, hard-working individuals who love to teach and love to learn! Fluency in English and Nepali is a must. Interested in joining our team? Please send resumes and inquiries to:
☆ please share this message to help us spread the word!

We have vacancies at Kopila Valley for the following positions:

1 School Administrator

1 High School Math teacher

1 Children's Home Caregiver


***Applicants must be Nepalese please!  :)