Whatever you've heard of Kathmandu, it was probably exotic and mysterious, but be assured that children there are like kids everywhere. Only, there's horrific poverty -- over half the country lives below UNICEF's poverty line. Interestingly, many who are sentenced to jail for criminal activity simply take their dependent children with them, if there's no one else to care for them.
And, like everywhere else in the world, there are good souls who see a need and feel compelled to help.
[Pushpa] Basnet was just 21 when she discovered her calling, she said. While her family ran a successful business, she was studying social work in college. As part of her studies, she visited a women's prison and was appalled by the dire conditions. She also was shocked to discover children living behind bars.
One baby girl grabbed Basnet's shawl and gave her a big smile.
"I felt she was calling me," Basnet said. "I went back home and told my parents about it. They told me it was a normal thing and that in a couple of days I'd forget it. But I couldn't forget."
Basnet decided to start a day care to get incarcerated children out from behind the prison walls. While her parents were against the idea at first -- she had no job or way to sustain it financially -- eventually they helped support her. But prison officials, government workers and even some of the imprisoned mothers she approached doubted that someone her age could handle such a project.
"When I started, nobody believed in me," Basnet said. "People thought I was crazy. They laughed at me."
But Basnet was undaunted. She got friends to donate money, and she rented a building in Kathmandu to house her new organization, the Early Childhood Development Center. She furnished it largely by convincing her parents that they needed a new refrigerator or kitchen table; when her parents' replacement would arrive, she'd whisk the old one to her center.
Just two months after she first visited the prison, Basnet began to care for five children. She picked them up at the prison every weekday morning, brought them to her center and then returned them in the afternoon. Basnet's program was the first of its kind in Kathmandu; when she started, some of the children in her care had never been outside a prison.
Two years later, Basnet established the Butterfly Home, a children's home where she herself has lived for the past five years. While she now has a few staff members who help her, Basnet is still very hands on.
"We do cooking, washing, shopping," she said. "It's amazing, I never get tired. (The children) give me the energy. ... The smiles of my children keep me motivated."
It's a beautiful endeavor, and I'm delighted that she's found some recognition for her work, which may translate into some much-needed donations. It would seem, though, that the critical element is her maternal love, which flows abundantly. May God reward her generosity of heart.