This is a story about sustainable community development, conservation education, and the power we each have to make a difference.

For me, it’s about a lot more than that, too. I’m a former journalism professor, but I’m not even going to attempt objectivity here; this is advocacy, pure and simple. I want you to love this place and its people as much as I do.

Welcome to Kopila Valley School

After working with leaders and experts in over 45 countries, Nepal’s Kopila Valley School is the single most remarkable, inspiring place I have ever been and the most committed, vibrant, remarkable group of people I have seen work together.

So, I’m not surprised WWF Nepal has recognized Kopila Valley School as the Best Eco Club in a Secondary School in Nepal. Its dedication to sustainability and fostering environmental connections for students is a sight to behold—and one I have seen with my own eyes.

I have also sat on the concrete floor at lunchtime and eaten with the kids—tasty, nutritious food they helped grow themselves and local Aunties prepared using a solar power system on the cafeteria roof.

The solar cooking system consists of three rows of curved mirrors that focus sunlight on an insulated pipe containing oil that is heated to high temperatures and then transported down to pots in the kitchen. On an average sunny day, the system can cook rice, lentils and vegetables for 500 hungry people!

Lunch at Kopila Valley School Photo shared by BlinkNow Foundation

Lunch at Kopila Valley School Photo shared by BlinkNow Foundation

WWF Nepal’s Commitment to Conservation Education

Over the course of its 30 years, WWF Nepal has maintained a dual mission: to stop the degradation of the natural environment and build a future in which people live in harmony with nature.

That future depends upon Nepal’s children.

So, WWF focuses the majority of its efforts on conservation education. Conservation education is designed to instill a sense of value and stewardship in young people across the country so they take action toward conservation and sustainable development now and in the future.

(If you have kids or grandkids with whom you’d like to share conservation stories, check out WWF Nepal videos and books in English at the bottom of the page linked here.)

Kopila Valley School in Surkhet, Nepal, September 17, 2022. Photo by Allison Shelley | Shared by BlinkNow Foundation

Kopila Valley School in Surkhet, Nepal, September 17, 2022. Photo by Allison Shelley | Shared by BlinkNow Foundation

From its inaugural school eco club in 1994, WWF Nepal has sought to educate, engage and empower 500,000 youth through conservation education. The eco club program emphasizes learning by doing and works toward ensuring equitable access to educational resources, promoting social action models, and developing a nationwide youth network to build pro-environment and biodiversity values.

WWF Nepal aims to create a generation of Nepali youth committed to sustainable development and biodiversity conservation that effectively engages and influences wider stakeholders.

That’s exactly what’s happening at Kopila Valley. The kids will tell you about it themselves in English from the halfway point (3:00) in this video shared online by WWF Nepal:

Hikmat Bhandari, staff mentor for the Ambassador Club’s waste management group, says this video contributed to the hands-on learning experience that is prevalent at Kopila Valley and necessary in Nepal.

“Students in Nepal need to learn about conservation to establish a sense of connection and responsibility towards the environment and encourage them to become active participants in conserving natural resources and the environment for future generations. This also provides valuable experiences and skills that are beneficial to them in life – like research, public speaking and policymaking.”

Students in the Sustainability Ambassadors Club at Kopila Valley played a key role in securing this award and created a video submission highlighting their work in four groups: forest fire, plantation or cultivation and care, waste management, and climate change. 

Each group studies an environmental challenge and then plans projects to take collective and collaborative action. Students from grades 6–12 have the option to participate in this club, which currently boasts 38 members and hosts various eco projects and community service efforts during the year.

According to WWF Nepal, “This honor is awarded to educational institutions that have demonstrated exceptional commitment and ingenuity in advancing environmental sustainability.”

Kopila Valley—Nepal’s Greenest School

What makes this award at this school especially unique is that these kids are not from well-connected families in Kathmandu or even in their own community. The school is located in Birendranagar, Surkhet district, in Nepal’s largest province, Karnali, 375 miles west of Kathmandu.

Both Nepal’s longest river and its two largest lakes are in Karnali, as are two national parks, Rara and Shey Phoksundo. But Surkhet’s population has nearly tripled in the last 40 years, putting enormous pressure on resources and the environment.

Nepal’s per capita income in fiscal year 2022–2023 was approximately $1,381; in Karnali Province, it was just $964. The Nepali average multidimensional poverty rate is 17.4%; in Karnali Province it is 39.5%.

Since its inception, Kopila Valley School has undertaken rigorous admission processes to ensure that they are identifying and accepting children who in most cases would have no access or opportunity to attend school. It is a not-for-profit, private school offering free, world-class education (plus uniforms and meals) to over 425 needful students from across the region. 

Distinct from many schools in the area, Kopila Valley offers the best education through an innovative place-based active learning program, a leading-edge, sustainable school campus, and comprehensive, ongoing training of local teachers and leaders.

Kopila Valley School in Birendranagar, Surkhet, Nepal | Photo courtesy of BlinkNow

Kopila Valley School in Birendranagar, Surkhet, Nepal | Photo courtesy of BlinkNow

Between the Mountain and the Sky: Maggie’s Story

If this story sounds familiar, you may have heard of co-founder Maggie Doyne when she won the 2015 CNN Hero of the Year Award or was on the cover of the New York Times magazine in 2010.

BlinkNow Co-founder & CEO, Maggie Doyne | Shared by BlinkNow Foundation

BlinkNow Co-founder & CEO, Maggie Doyne | Shared by BlinkNow Foundation

I met Maggie in 2009 when she dreamed of opening a simpler, bamboo-construction school near the Children’s Home where she lived with co-founder Tope Malla and his family and around 40 children. She was 22 years old and had already lived in Nepal for several years.

Two things struck me:

  • She was so much like me: We both grew up in middle-class, suburban American families, excelled at school and sports, loved to travel…I suspect many people meet Maggie and think they could be great friends.
  • There was something remarkably different about Maggie, though: Tt 22, she could rattle off any sustainable development or early childhood development statistic you’d ask her about, then connect it to stakeholder concerns on the ground in her region of Nepal, as well as describe the reality of the families the numbers represented.

In the next breath, she might tell you a completely gnarly story about treating a house full of children with lice…or even worms. Then, her laugh would completely captivate the room.

Maggie Doyne is the real deal, as are co-founder Tope Malla and the teams on the ground in Nepal and the USA. They are building and living a huge, evolving vision of a world where every child is loved, fed, educated and set up to pay it forward. 

Maggie’s memoir, Between the Mountain and the Sky, was published in 2022 and is currently being made into a film that will make its debut at Colorado’s Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride.

A Model for Conservation Education

In the early years, Maggie and the team were often asked to fly around the world to build schools and advise on children’s homes in other communities. I remember her saying once, “Everyone says we have to scale, scale, scale.”

They chose to scale another way. Kopila Valley School is open from 7 in the morning until 6 in the evening and offers a diverse curriculum—math, science, Nepali, English, social studies, computers and art—for nursery through 12th grade. It feeds hundreds of people every day and provides basic medical and dental care through its on-site clinic. Its Women’s Center produces textiles, occupational training, and employment opportunities.

One of the reasons Kopila Valley’s home and school work so well is they are thoroughly entrenched in the particular needs and network, culture, and community in which they operate. It was a choice to stay in Surkhet and serve to the best of their ability, to build local teams and partnershipsbased on local needs to support transformation in the community.

The way BlinkNow and Kopila Valley scale is as a model for other homes, schools, and foundations that want to grow and serve in locally responsible ways. ‘Want to learn how to build a movement or transform an issue or area? You will find no better case study.

It’s a lesson for all of us that we can each have an impact on even the largest, most overwhelming, seemingly intractable issues.

For me, this relates directly to conservation and climate change mitigation. Every effort, every action, is of value, and great leadership plus committed teams compounds impact.

That principle is reflected throughout the school’s curriculum. Students at Kopila Valley don’t just learn how the school leadership protects the environment – they actually interact with the food system by planting and tending some of the rice and other food the community consumes each year. Kids even visit the landfill and municipal waste management teams.

Each person plays his or her part, too: during the annual Earth Day week-long celebration, teachers focus on the importance of the environment, and select staff members participate in permaculture training to learn more about Surkhet’s ecosystem. A cooperative that grew out of Kopila Valley’s vocational Women’s Center has even started selling rice bags repurposed into reusable totes to minimize the need for single-use plastic.

Kopila Valley School WWF award-winning Eco Ambassador Club | Photo by Robic Upadhayay courtesy of BlinkNow

Kopila Valley School WWF award-winning Eco Ambassador Club | Photo by Robic Upadhayay courtesy of BlinkNow

This recent recognition from WWF Nepal serves as a testament to Kopila Valley School’s unwavering dedication to environmental conservation. The Ambassadors Club and the school itself continue to inspire and equip students, as well as the surrounding communityto make a positive impact on the environment.

Sustainability Ambassadors are experts on all things sustainability at Kopila Valley Schoolrammed earth, solar power, recycling, and more. They give tours to visitors, lead community clean-ups, plant trees, and encourage others to take action for the planet.

About the Sustainability Ambassadors, Maggie says, 

“Our school’s sustainability program lays the groundwork for our children’s thriving future. It fosters a deep appreciation for the environment and the planet among our students, equipping them with the knowledge and abilities necessary to tackle future environmental challenges. We are shaping leaders who will steer us toward a more sustainable, equitable, and empathetic world.”


I have a feeling if I asked Maggie to review this article (I didn’t—she is very busy), she might ask me to tweak the paragraph that shares the percentage of the population living in poverty. She would likely point to the remarkable beauty and biodiversity of the region, the incredible resources that are available locally, how incredibly hardworking people are, how willing people are to work together…to the amazing things that are possible with resources.

Sometimes, when we think and talk about places around the world like Surkhet, development and conservation seem at odds, and the difference a small group of people can make feels limited. WWF and Kopila Valley School recognize that conservation education can change that.

If I have learned anything from meeting the team at Kopila Valley School and seeing them at work myself, it is this: building the right team to last over time focused on doing the best work possible can make incredible dreams reality.

For more information:

If you would like to see parts of Nepal and the Himalayas for yourself, Nat Hab’s Wild & Ancient Himalaya: Nepal & Bhutan.

Take a virtual tour of Nepal’s greenest school here

The BlinkNow Foundation started as a way to provide education and a loving, caring home for impoverished and at-risk children without homes. It fulfills its mission by providing financial support and management oversight to the Kopila Valley Children’s Home and Kopila Valley School in Surkhet, Nepal.