Pushpa brings smiles to millions of Nepalis

Good news is a rare commodity in Nepal. But on Monday morning almost every Nepali heart was filled with pride and a smile lit up their faces when news of an event that happened thousands of miles away filtered in through television channels and radio bulletins.

The naming of Pushpa Basnet, a 29-year-old social worker from Kathmandu, by US news network CNN as the Hero for 2012 at a glittering function in Los Angeles was the rare good news that made Nepalis temporarily forget the ongoing political and constitutional crisis in the country.

Usually it’s her namesake, chairman of the ruling Maoist party Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, who grabs headlines in Nepal, but on Tuesday all newspapers carried stories and photos of Basnet’s victory prominently on their front pages.

Pushpa who beat several contenders from other countries to bag the US $ 300,000 award became the second Nepali woman to bag the prestigious honour after Anuradha Koirala won it two years ago for rescuing thousands of girls from human traffickers and brothels in India.

Pushpa’s journey to Los Angeles started when as a 21-year-old student of social work she visited a women’s prison as part of her curriculum and was shocked to find infants and young children living behind prison bars along with their incarcerated mothers.

Determined to give these children a better childhood she started Early Childhood Development Centre in 2005 to provide for their shelter, healthcare, nutritional and educational requirements. She didn’t have much apart from a strong sense of purpose to do what she felt right.

Till date, with support of jail authorities and imprisoned mothers lodged in jails across Nepal, Pushpa and her team have helped over 140 children break free from the cycle of crime and poverty and allowed them to dream of a better future unlike that of their parents.

Pushpa has two centres—a kindergarten for children below five (they are kept in day care and handed over to their mothers in the evenings) and a residential home for those above five. At present, 42 children are residing in the facility and attending a local school.

The children are reunited with their mothers once they leave prison, but in order to ensure that the young ones get good education, food and live in a safe environment ECDC tries to make sure that the mothers stay away from crime and discharge their parental duties properly.

All of Nepal was happy with Pushpa’s win, but the children of ECDC who call her ‘mamu’ (or mother) were the most ecstatic. There were celebrations all day as they posed for shutterbugs and even missed school.

Nepalis who are getting increasingly frustrated with the country’s politicians took to social networking sites to congratulate Pushpa and berate the ‘netas’ for failing to draft the new constitution and usher in the promised New Nepal.

While politicians seem at loss on how to resolve the current crisis Pushpa is sure about what to do with the award money. Since ECDC is operating from a rented facility at present, she wants to construct a new place called Butterfly Home for her children.

Everyone in Nepal hopes that like her name she would continue to blossom and spread fragrance in the lives of children.

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