Lighting up the Kopila Valley Children's Home
I lay wide awake on my first night at the Kopila Valley Children’s Home, trying to keep absolutely still. I could feel the beads of sweat forming on my forehead; the summer heat of Surkhet, Nepal sent the temperature well over 95 degrees, and the mosquito net around my bed eliminated any chance of a breeze. Finally, at 2 am the electricity returned, and my ceiling fan slowly started spinning. I can’t tell you how happy I was - finally, I was able to get a few hours of sleep! Avishek (SunFarmer’s Director of Engineering and Ops) and I had been drawn to Kopila Valley Children’s Home and School after reading about the story of its founder, Maggie Doyne. In 2006, while backpacking through Nepal on a post-high school gap year, Maggie was struck by the war-ravaged homes and poor educational conditions for the children of the area. At age nineteen, using her life savings of $5,000, she decided to start a school in Surkhet, a 15-hour bus ride away from Kathmandu, Nepal. Eight years later, Maggie is now the caretaker and legal guardian of nearly 50 amazing, happy kids at the Kopila Valley Children’s Home. She also runs the Kopila Valley School, which educates over 300 students and is widely recognized as the top school in the region. The program has expanded to include a training curriculum for Nepali teachers, a professional skills center for local women, a health and dental center, and a free hot lunch for every student.
When I woke up on the second morning of our stay, I didn’t want to tell Maggie that it had been difficult to sleep. I felt like a privileged westerner, unable to handle the heat. But when we had a team meeting to discuss what the “essential” electrical appliances in the building were, I was surprised to hear Maggie tell us they absolutely needed the fans. “For 3 months out of the year, the kids at the Children’s Home can’t sleep because it’s too hot, and the mosquitoes are vicious when there’s no air circulation. They fall asleep for the few hours in the night when the electricity is available.” This costs them at school the next morning, making it more difficult to concentrate and be alert for a full day of school. A more reliable solar energy system would allow the children to have lights to study at night, to use TVs and projectors for classes and educational programming, and to charge computers so the staff can plan the next day’s lesson plans and make sure the School and Children’s Home are properly running. And of course, it would power those fans!
The Kopila Valley team is currently planning a brand new, 3-acre campus that will educate over 500 students and serve as a model for world class rural education. It will require a lot - more teachers, more buildings, a larger staff, and more books and materials. In order to realize this vision, Maggie and the Kopila Valley School and Children’s Home need access to clean, reliable energy - the current electric grid is unavailable for the majority of the day, and the backup diesel generators are not a sufficient solution for the energy shortage. Diesel is expensive, noisy, and polluting, and the low quality of the fuel often means that generators don’t work.
Maggie’s vision has grown in leaps and bounds over the past eight years - she wants the new school to serve as a “blueprint” for what a world class rural education system can look like. Solar energy is an important part of this solution; Avi and I left Kopila Valley excited and inspired to be part of such a lofty and important mission.