CNN Hero of 2012 Pushpa Basnet

A social worker and the Founder/President of Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) and Butterfly Home, Puspha Basnet has been working to strengthen the rights of children living behind the bars with their incarcerated parents. Her efforts have been acknowledged by national as well as international media as she won the 2012 CNN Hero of the Year Award at a ceremony held in Los Angeles in 2 December, 2012.

She started the center at the age of 21, in the year 2005, when she was still doing her undergraduate in Social Work in Kathmandu University. Since then, more than 140 children of the incarcerated parents had been taken under her care and she has provided them with housing, education and medical care. She had visited a women prison in Kathmandu as a part of her college assignment where, seeing the conditions of the children living with their parents behind the bars dismayed her and she thought that she had to do something fast to ensure the rights of the children. Raising Rs. 70,000 (about $885) from her close friends and sister, she started the non-profit organization ECDC to provide a day care program to those children.

She opened a residential home for the kids to live outside the prison year around in the year 2007. The children above the age of five live here and go for an occasional visit to their mothers during the holidays. For the children below 5 years, she runs a day care center side-by-side. She has not only provided alternative residence but also education in schools, free meals and medical care. Within seven years of establishment, she has already assisted more than a hundred and forty children.

She also started a program to coach the parents to make handicrafts in the year 2009. The program sponsored by Change Fusion Nepal focused on making the female prisoners as well as former prisoner self-dependent and teaching them income generating skills. This way the mothers inside the prison walls were also able to contribute towards raising their children as the handicrafts are sold by ECDC and the funds collected are used for raising children. It was difficult when she had started as the people did not believe that a girl of her age could handle it all but gradually, her persistence and determination paid off and she won the trust of the parents as well as the prison administrators. She is like a foster mother to the children in her center and the children lovingly call her ‘mamu’ (mother).

She works together with the prison administrators to rescue children behind bars throughout urban and rural areas of Nepal and help them enjoy the basic rights that every child deserves. She herself visits the prisons to rescue the child from behind the bars. She has also set up a bank account to save for the higher education of the children and also to buy a permanent resident for them, as the house they live in is rented if something happens to her, the children might have to go back to prison. Many local organizations have helped to raise fund for her work and some of the major donors are The Glasswaters Foundation, Shikshya Foundation Nepal and Sundar Sansar.

Not only in Nepal but her efforts has been recognized all over the world. She was invited as the honored guest speaker in the banquet dinner hosted by George Washington Student Organization Babies Behind Bars in The Cloyd Heck Marvin Center, GW University in May1, 2012. She was also an honored speaker in TEDx Kathmandu which was organized in July 28, 2012. She was awarded the ELGA Youth Award for her contribution in human services by the ELGA Foundation of South Korea in September 1, 2012 at a ceremony organized at Soul’s Chung Conference Hall, making her the only foreigner to receive the award which was established in the memory of Social worker Kim Yongi in 1989.

Her efforts have always been towards the protection of the rights of the children and she wishes to provide them all the facilities that she had enjoyed as a child. Her efforts at providing them better facilities and keeping away from poverty and crime has so far become successful and let us all hope that her recognition as the CNN Hero 2012 and the cash amount given to her for continuation of her social cause will help save the rights of many more children and change their lives for good.