Pushpa Basnet: “No child should have to grow up behind bars”

Social worker Pushpa Basnet continues to turn around the lives of countless children. What gets her going?

Anushka Nepal

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: Once, many moons ago, Pushpa Basnet visited the women’s prison in Kalimati for her assignment as an undergraduate social work student at the St. Xavier’s College, in Maitighar, Kathmandu. Seeing children compelled to live in prison because they were children of the convicts was disheartening for a young Basnet. When an infant, all of nine months, lying on the floor, held on to her clothes, Basnet had, as she recalls, a moment of epiphany. 

When she came out of the prison, Basnet was a changed person. She vowed to devote her life to changing the situation of those hapless children. Her assignment transformed into a life’s work.

Today, Basnet is one of the most noted social workers in Nepal. In the 16 years since she has been active in social work, Basnet has turned the lives of countless children around. Basnet’s contribution to social work has been recognized internationally; in 2012, she was awarded as a CNN Hero, by the American media company, with a cash purse of 50,000 US Dollars. Pushpa’s organization, Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC), an NGO, was awarded an additional 250,000 US Dollar grant.

Basnet founded the ECDC in 2005. Initially, the organization provided daycare facilities to the children of the convicts in prison. Initially, the only thing that was stopping her from expanding the remit of the organization was finance. With some struggle, Basnet managed to collect Rs 70,000 to establish ECDC.

That was not the end of her struggle.

“The difficult part was convincing the parents of those children,” Basnet says. It is understandable that parents would not want to give away their child to a complete stranger; little did they know that Basnet was an angel in disguise.

After two months from her first visit in prison, Basnet had 5 children in her daycare. The numbers only grew after that.

In 2007, Basnet established a residential home―Butterfly Home―that gave these children not just a daycare, but a place that they can call home. “It is like living with a huge family,” Basnet says. Everyone in the house is bonded with one another with the universal thread of love and affection. Basnet nevertheless made sure that these children were not detached from their families and were often visiting their parents in prison when the circumstances were favorable. There is an exception for children with abusive parents. In that case, children were distanced from them. 

Photo: CNN

In the residential home, children get to play, go to school, and have a normal childhood like any other children. This also gives some hope and motivation to the parents to continue to provide the children with the same privilege once they are out of the prison. Once the parents are out of the prison, her organization focuses on children reintegration back to the family along with the educational support and monthly ration. 

What gets Basnet going is her strong, deep-seated belief in empathy and compassion. It is a belief that has touched countless lives and continues to change them around.

“We are focussed on reintegrating children back to family when parents come out from prison with support education and monthly ration,” she says.

Obviously, there have been setbacks in Basnet’s long project. During the 2015 earthquake, the building where the daycare was located collapsed as well as the Butterfly Home that was going under construction. Basnet was forced to close down the daycare facility, but Basnet now plans on opening daycares in prison, not just in Kathmandu but also in rural areas.

Along with this, her organization also runs a youth support program that focuses on vocational training, and currently, 15 youths are studying in the Balaju School Of Engineering & Technology.

Now, with a team and older children beside her, Basnet has a well-functioning institution that runs quite well even in her absence.

What gets Basnet going is her strong, deep-seated belief in empathy and compassion. It is a belief that has touched countless lives and continues to change them around. “No child,” Basnet says, “should have to grow up behind bars.”