A hero among us

May 3, 2013 , by Supriya Rai, Leave your thoughts
A hero among us » My Dreams Mag
Photo: Pushpa Basnet
Phsupa Basnet’s inspirational story stole the spotlight when she was nominated for CNN Hero of the year 2012. Her zealous efforts to save the children of women behind bars made international headlines and won her the coveted title. We catch up with Pushpa Basnet to reflect on how circumstances have been affected since then. 

On December 2, 2012, in a star studded event in the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, Pushpa Basnet clutched her CNN Hero of the Year award close to her heart, tears of disbelief running down her face.

After seven years of tireless dedication to children born and being raised in incarceration, it was a moment of glory for the founder of the Early Childhood Development Center in Kathmandu.

Upon being handed the award, a victorious Basnet passionately cried out, “There are still 80 children living in prison. Mamu [as the children call her] is definitely going to get you out — you are coming to my place.

Almost five months later, in the comfort of her office, the 28-year-old recalls the events of that day. She says she never expected to walk away with the award and confesses it was a complete shock when the host Anderson Cooper announced her name on the stage.

 A visibly emotional Pushpa graciously dedicated the award to her children and country, Nepal.

When asked what was going through her head at that moment, she pauses reflectively before answering, “Umm…that everyone is watching. My dreams are coming true. And more importantly, these people here believe in my dreams.”

Basnet fully acknowledges the role the Nepali janata played in her win. Undoubtedly it was the nod from CNN that set the ball rolling. When it came to crunch time however, ultimately it boiled down to the nine-week long public vote

Vote we did, in droves. The whole country threw its weight behind her.

And just like Anuradha Koirala of Maiti Nepal had done two years prior,  another Nepali woman deservedly attained the CNN Hero of the Year title .

Basnet’s win also came with the much talked about US $300,000 cash prize. She is quick to clarify she has not received the money yet though the process has been set in motion. When the money does come through, she says it will be utilised for acquiring land and constructing The Butterfly Home – a long cherished dream that is finally materialising, thanks to the CNN Hero Award.

ECDC’s website on the Butterfly Home Project states, “ECDC needs a permanent residence, a long-term establishment where children will be able to live for years to come. Our vision is to build a permanent residential home just outside Kathmandu: It will be five stories, complete with a medical room and a library, where all the children can live happily and with enough room to expand Pushpa’s work in the future.”

Turning this dream project into a reality is where the young social worker is putting all her recent efforts. This project, however, is still short of an additional Rs. 10,000,000. Basnet explains acquiring land will cause a sizeable dent in her budget. The remaining balance will not be enough to cover the full cost of construction and furnishing.

“We have recently introduced a buy-a-brick scheme where donors can buy a brick for ECDC for $50, the contributions of which will be channeled towards the construction of the Butterfly Home. More benevolent donors can even buy a room in this home, which will be named after them and completed plus furnished with their generous donations,” explains an optimistic Basnet.

She further expands that their chief donors so far have been Glasswater Foundation, Sikhsha Foundation Nepal, and a handful of charitable individual contributors. With this scheme she hopes to reach a wider audience and meet her target in good time.

The award has no doubt brought the philanthropist much needed publicity and recognition. Of the many perks, one was the training plus a grant of $10,000 awarded to her by the Annenberg Foundation. Without any prompting Basnet fires away the list of items she spent that money acquiring for the centre – $9,000 for a solar power system, $1,000 on a dining table and a dishwashing area.

“I made very economic investments,” says a satisfied social worker who prides herself in the transparency she’s been able to maintain on her end, and the consequent trust she has been able to earn from donors.

Another perk of the much welcome platform CNN provided her, have been the opportunity to work as a motivational speaker, to expand her network, and to travel more.

The flip side to this however has been the presumptive disposition towards ECDC’s future.

“People seem to assume that all our needs are taken care of now that the spotlight has been turned on,” she adds, “which is simply not true.”

ECDC’s wish list on their website helps shed some light on how modest a lot of their needs are. You wouldn’t expect to still see schoolbags and wind-up lanterns for example on that list. But with monthly expenses like groceries, stationeries, and the running costs of the center, Basnet has no choice but to prioritize her needs.

Mamu speaks of an overwhelming moment from earlier years, was when a vegetable vendor offered her a kilo of tomatoes for free to contribute to her work.

“I always teach my kids that the donations have come from hardworking people and thus deserve respect. Nothing – no matter how big or small – should be taken for granted.”

The statistics speak for themselves: Basnet has so far reunited 60 children with their parents after their release from jail. Until that is possible she provides these children with an education, nutrition, stability, security, and unconditional love. 

Basnet’s achievements are commendable given the fact that she only started her centre in 2005. Through her tireless efforts she has helped shed light on the plight of innocently incarcerated children who undoubtedly would have had a vastly different future if not for their “hero.” 

In the last week alone, four new children from Janakpur have been saved from the clutches of Nepal’s failed legal system.

And as she coos and fusses over her youngest ward who is only eight months old, it is quite obvious why she is a hero.


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