Just 20 years old, Phoebe Coburn is certain about the path she wants to pursue in life. “I am determined,” she says, “to express my gratitude for my family, education, wild places, wildlife, and culture by dedicating myself, unwaveringly, to protect and improve these places and institutions.”
While her unique upbringing in Nepal and the U.S. surely contributed to her motivation, Phoebe’s curious mind and determined spirit are all her own, and she is wasting no time ful- filling her vision.
In 2007, Phoebe teamed up with Liesl Clark, a colleague of her father’s, to create a library in a rural Nepalese community—the Magic Yeti Children’s Library. Just 12 at the time, Phoebe coordinated book drives at schools and libraries in her hometown of Jackson, Wyoming, and worked to raise the money needed to ship the books to the Asia Foundation in San Francisco, a nonprofit that sent the books on to Nepal in one of their cargo shipments. She also raised enough money to hire a Nepalese librarian. “As a child, I spent three years living in Kathmandu,” she says. “I felt the country calling me back and realized that with the library, I could help others have some of the same kind of opportunities I have had.”
That same year, Phoebe and Liesl flew to Nepal to meet the books and transport them from Kathmandu to the village of Khumjung in the shadow of Mt. Everest. During this trip, Phoebe decided that one Magic Yeti Library would not be enough and began to plan for more.
Two years later, Phoebe and Liesl established a second Magic Yeti Library at a nunnery in the community of Tsarang; soon after, Liesl opened a third in Phortse. While in high school, Phoebe organized a trip to Nepal for nine of her fellow students. The students stayed with Nepalese families and worked together to establish a fourth library in Thame, a small Sherpa village in the Solukhumbu District. “I returned to this library in June of 2013,” she says. “It was open for students from 9 to 4 every day and the kids are able to bring books home at night. There is nothing more gratifying than to know that I’m making a difference in a child’s life through education and exploration of the world of books.”
In spite of her accomplishments, Phoebe struggles with patience, wanting change to happen quickly. To help during these times, she remembers the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “If there is no solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem, then there’s no need to worry.” Instead of worrying, she is constantly exploring ways to take action.
This year, Phoebe is spending a semester in Tanzania, conducting a comparative study of coral reefs off the coast of the small town of Kigombe, some of which have been heavily dynamited. She’ll also spend time in a Maasai community and visit the Serengeti, but in the back of her mind she is already planning her next trip to Nepal.
“My inspiration comes from my family and the beautiful places I have been raised,” she says. “I look up to my father for his relentless determination to make the world a better place and his belief that the world is not a terrible and dark place. I admire my mother for her compassion, wisdom, and patience, and hope one day I can embody these traits.”
When asked what she’ll do next, she laughs and says, “I’m not sure. There are so many things I want to do!” While endless possibilities could be daunting, Phoebe doesn’t see it that way and just remembers her guiding philosophy: “Compassion takes wisdom, patience, concentration, determination, ethics, and generosity. While that sounds like a lot, it really isn’t. I believe every person has these traits and potential, and therefore the ability to be compassionate.”