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Pushpa Basnet – “I had a failure tag.”

Pushpa Basnet is 'Mamu' to roughly 50 Nepali children, who would otherwise grow up behind bars by no fault of their own. With parents incarcerated, these kids are structural orphans. Contrary to social stigma, Pushpa believes children are like caterpillars; with enough love and the right environment, they will transform into butterflies and contribute to society despite any congenital misfortune. During her undergraduate training in Social Work, Pushpa founded Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) in 2005 to "make sure no child grows up behind prison walls." Her heart-warming work is the subject of the award-winning documentary, "Waiting for Mamu." Winning CNN Hero of the Year in 2012, Pushpa has received international recognition for her ground-breaking work. With The Butterfly Home now complete, her dream of building and owning her own home has become a well-deserved reality.
by Dawn MorningstarApril 25, 2016

When I was in school, I didn’t want to study. I went to a very good school, but culturally people think investing in girls’ education is a loss. If my parents had invested on property, they’d have gotten a profit.

In school, I had a failure tag. It said I was no good at studies. It said things were not right with me. I was taught that I was a failure in my life.

I started working with kids to prove to myself that I was not a failure. Even to show my father that I was not a failure.

I remember taking a big school exam. Out of 138 students who gave the exam, I was the only one to fail it. For the first time in my life I saw my father cry. My father doesn’t speak much. He likes to be by himself, and loves whatever he does. He’s not close to me. I love him a lot. I respect him. Seeing him cry for the first time really made me sad.

The next year my poor little sister had to give the exam too. I failed one subject in math and she failed two subjects in math. We wanted desperately to prove, especially to our father, that investing on a girl’s education is not wrong.

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I don’t know how I got into St. Xavier’s College. It’s one of the best colleges in Nepal. I studied social work because I didn’t want to study math. It is the easier subject. You go to college for three days. Thursday and Friday you intern at a different organization. I thought that is the best subject for me to study. I used to study, come back, go to intern. In the second year, I was also kind of a rebel. I don’t like being bullied, or seeing anyone else bullied.

There was this teacher, I still remember him. I had failed my school exam and whenever you went to the new class you had to introduce your self and reveal your grade, what subject you are, what math scores you had, etc.

When I said I gave this year’s exam, automatically they knew I was a failure. I lost all year. This Sir said, “Oh my god, who gave you this address? You failed and you got through to this college?” I didn’t say anything, but after that I could feel I was treated differently.

My friends were all strong in their studies and I was not. Maybe I wasn’t as good looking as they were either. I didn’t dress up. I was like who cares, you know? I don’t care. My teacher started giving me problems. He made me fail every time, and whenever I asked him anything, he used to say, “Look who’s asking all these things!”

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One day I stood up to him and said, “If I fail, that means you are not capable of making me understand, right? Why can’t you make a student understand?” He said, “Don’t argue with me!” I said, “No. I have a right because my parents are paying money and you are getting a salary.” That was it. He said, “Get out of the class!” I said, “No. I should not get out because my parents are paying and you are getting a salary.” He was so bad, he said, “If you’re not going to go, I’m going to go out.” My friend said, “No, Pushpa, you should leave.”

Then I came out and spoke to my parents. I always spoke with my parents. The first person in my life was my parents, my dad and my mom. If I made a mistake, if I smoke, if I drink, if I did anything, even if I went to disco- Anything I always told my parents. Even this thing with my teacher, I told my parents. My dad said, “Good! Good for him. Yes, he should know that I’m paying money! His salary isn’t free!” Then within a week I was caught bunking [skipping] classes, because my friend’s were there and we were all bunking classes. Of course the teacher only caught me. He said to me that, “Now I’m not going to leave you!”

So he called my mom, and he said, “You should come to school, your daughter ran away, and now she’s outside the class in the gate.” My mom said, “Okay, so that means my daughter was inside the school, then she went outside the school, right?” The teacher said, “Yes.” My mom said, “Oh, that means your school security is not good!” My parents said, “The school security is not good, that’s not my problem, that’s your problem!” My teacher said, “See, the mother is so carefree, she doesn’t care about her daughter, look at what is wrong with this daughter.”

The next day they gave me a letter saying I was suspended for a year. I came back home and said, “Mom, I am suspended for a year.” My dad was like, “Don’t worry, next year you’re going to start again.”

I felt bad. I never wanted to go back. If I went back the following year, I would have to study with my junior friends, because now all my classmates were up a level. My dad was like, “If you don’t go, all your life the school will say that we had this girl, we threw her out, she did this and that, and then they’ll make a story.” I was like, “Okay then” and I waited for a year.

During my break from school, I had a chance to visit the jail. I saw this girl. She was nine months old. When I saw her, I looked at my life. I have nice family, a good lifestyle, everything- but still I complain. There are other kids, who just because their parents are in prison, they don’t have a choice. They have to live inside the prison. This realization made me feel like I should do something for these kids.

That’s when we started a daycare system. Every morning we’d go into the prison, bring the children out to study, and then they’d go back into the prison.

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In 2007, we started a residential home. We cared for two kids that had gone to another orphanage, but with terrible conditions. For them, I amended my constitution, and with two kids I started – now I have a total of 51 kids.

Through this, I learned failure is a success for anyone, and that taught me to work hard. I wanted to make my father feel his investment in me and my sister was not a wrong decision. That girls’ education is definitely worth it. To show my father that we are equal to a son.

People don’t care as much about girls. They send them to adoption, trafficking, these sorts of things. I think opportunity is for everyone. There is 100 percent profit, if you invest in girls. You need to empower girls to feel that they can believe in their dreams.

Following my dream and making it a reality is the most important thing I do.

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Making sure the kids living behind prison bars have a better life so that tomorrow they can give it to somebody else. That’s most important. Now, my dream is coming to reality soon- my Butterfly Home. Construction has taken almost sixteen months, but I’ve been devoted to this project for almost ten years. Butterfly Home is my passion. Seeing all these kids from different backgrounds living here with me, in our dream. That makes me really happy.

Since 2005, we lived in rented houses. Moving from one place to another 5 times. I remember wishing I owned a home, because I saw other people who had a house for their kids. During that time I always sketched. I’d think, “if I had any money …” and I would sketch my dream on paper. I never thought my sketch would come true. All I had was a paper sketch, but it came true.

To be continued…

1st part of the Pushpa Basnet interview series at The Butterfly Home in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Interviewed by Dawn Morningstar & Hung Tran

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Find Pushpa here: FacebookEarly Childhood Development Center. The Butterfly Home.

Photo credit: Monique Nathan, ECDC, Kerstin Schulz, CNN & The Yoga Blog.

Endless gratitude to Monique Nathan and Barbara Freeman for helping The Yoga Blog. Namaste.

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