From failing her math board exam to becoming a CNN Superhero, Pushpa Basnet’s journeySharika Nair
Nepali social worker Pushpa Basnet runs a home for children of prisoners, giving them quality education and a normal childhood outside the four walls of the prison. The home was destroyed during the earthquake in 2015 but she painstakingly rebuilt it.
Your children are not your children,
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
- Kahlil Gibran
Seeing their children grow up in front of their eyes is the pride and joy of parents. However, when their circumstances restrict the possibilities open to their children, some parents are forced to look for somebody who can offer a better future.
For hundreds of convicts in Nepal, this saviour is Pushpa Basnet. A social worker from Kathmandu, Pushpa used to run a daycare centre called the Early Childhood Development Center for the children of convicts, who were locked up in prison cells with their parents. Currently, Pushpa’s Butterfly residential home houses 39 children, who are studying in good schools and colleges, participate in extracurricular activities, and most importantly, are being raised with a lot of love. Rescued from the cocoon that was a literal prison, these little butterflies have access to everything that a child from a privileged family would.
Pushpa was in India recently for the CNN Asia Business Forum 2017 and took time out of her schedule to speak to YourStory.
The tomboy who hated studying
Pushpa was born and raised in Kathmandu, the middle child with an older brother and a younger sister. A student at Elite’s Co-Ed School, she was, in her own words, a stubborn tomboy. She says, “I did what I wanted to do. I hated studies and loved arts and crafts. I liked to cook. But most of all, I loved cycling and would constantly be roaming around.”
Her father believed in giving his daughters as much freedom as their brother. Since he travelled a lot, the family accompanied him often on his trips.
The downside of Pushpa’s aversion to academics was when she failed math during her 10th-grade board exams. She recalls, “My father had to fly to Japan for a business trip. He was crying while leaving and he was worried about my future.” But destiny works in strange ways. Since Pushpa had to wait for a year to reappear for her exam (which she cleared) she volunteered at an orphanage and developed an interest in social work.
Pushpa graduated in social work from Kathmandu’s premier St Xavier’s College. During a college field trip to a jail in Kalimati, she came across the charming nine-month-old daughter of an inmate. She was horrified that the baby and others like her were locked up in the prison with their parents. When no local guardian is available, arrested parents often must choose between bringing their children to jail with them or sending them to orphanages. The children can stay with the parent only until eight years of age, after which their future is bleak. Of course, it is all a matter of perspective. Pushpa explains, “At least the children are safe inside the prison. With unreliable relatives, they could be abused or trafficked.”
From prison to day care
In 2005, Pushpa registered the day care for children of convicts. At just 21, convincing her parents was the easy part; convincing the convicts to hand over their children to a young girl was more difficult.
Just two months after she first visited the prison, Pushpa had five children in her Early Childhood Development Center. She would pick them up at the prison every weekday morning, take them to the centre, and then drop them back in the afternoon. Some of the children in her care had never been outside a prison in their lives!
Initially, she struggled for funds and even sold off some of her jewellery to finance the school. Soon, her work was noticed and appreciated. When she was chosen as a CNN hero in 2012, she used the prize money to achieve her dream — building a residential home for the older children. Butterfly Home was damaged by the 2015 earthquake that struck Nepal but an undeterred Pushpa painstakingly raised funds again and rebuilt it.
A home away from home
At the Butterfly Home, the older kids help care for the younger ones and everyone shares the household chores. The atmosphere is that of a large family.
Pushpa is particular that the children maintain a strong bond with their parents. During school holidays, she sends the younger children to the prisons to visit. Ultimately, Pushpa wants the families to reunite outside prison, and many of her children have been able to do just that. The parents are also motivated by the changed fortunes of their children and work towards improving their skills so that they can have a better life once they are out of prison. During Dussehra, which is a one-month holiday in Nepal, the children go and stay with their parents. The children whose parents are inmates of prisons in towns other than Kathmandu are encouraged to write to them frequently. In exceptional cases, where the parent is negligent or abusive, like the father who sexually assaulted his daughter, they keep the child away from the parent.
Most of the children go to a good school that is just a five-minute walk from the Butterfly Home. Children can also choose to learn extracurricular activities like Taekwondo, yoga, dance, and guitar. Two older kids attend Kathmandu University — one is pursuing a bachelor’s in finance and the other a bachelor’s in development studies.
A child care room in every prison
After the 2015 earthquake, Pushpa had to close down the day care, close to the Kathmandu prison, because it was housed on the ninth floor of a building. Now she is working on starting an Early Childhood Development Center in every prison, not just in the cities but in the rural areas as well.
With a competent team and the supervision of the older children, Pushpa is happy with the way the Butterfly Home is like a well-oiled machine when she is away travelling. I ask her how similar India and Nepal are culturally and she replies with a smile,
In both India and Nepal, the family bond is the most important thing.
Heroes change the world
Pushpa was chosen as the CNN Superhero in 2016. When she was honoured with the CNN Hero Award 2012, which was held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon had presented her with the award and the show was aired live on CNN.
Each of the Top 10 CNN Heroes had received $50,000 in recognition of their work, and Pushpa’s Early Childhood Development Center was awarded an additional $250,000 grant to continue the work.
In 2012, South Korea’s ILGA Foundation also presented Pushpa with the Young ILGA Award for her contribution to human service.