When Pushpa Basnet visited the women's prison in Sundhara seven years ago as part of a college social service trip, she had no idea that one afternoon would alter her life radically. Seeing the condition of the children trapped behind bars along with their incarcerated mothers moved her so much, she came home and told her parents she wanted take care of the children and give them a better future.
Her family thought she was crazy because Pushpa neither had the experience or the money to start such an ambitious project. Today the 28-year-old is president of the Early Childhood Development Centre (ECDC) in Budhanilkantha and became CNN's Hero of the Year 2012 on 2 December with the highest number of online votes. The ten CNN heroes received a $50,000 grant each and Pushpa was awarded an additional $250,000 for her selfless work and dedication. "This award means a lot to me. Many children are still living in prisons, definitely Mamu is going to take you out from prison and you are coming to my place," she said as she broke down in tears during her acceptance speech.
Started in 2005, ECDC currently houses 40 children whose parents are serving time. Pushpa and her team send the children to school, nurse them back to health, provide psycho-social counseling, and help them rebuild their lives. In the last seven years, ECDC has freed more 100 children from jail. Pushpa travels regularly to prisons all across the country, making agreements with jailers, parents, and ECDC and bringing children to Kathmandu. She also runs a day care centre near Sundhara prison for children under six whose mothers are in jail and has been training the women to make handicrafts for the last few years.
The stories of the children at ECDC are illustrated here through a series of comics by graphic journalist Dan Archer. "Comics are a powerful way of getting readers to experience testimonies from a first person perspective," says Dan, "I wanted to put the children's stories front and centre for the first time." He is currently working on adapting testimonies of trafficking survivors into comics and using the cartoons to engage with a younger, hard to reach audience, and teach them about the dangers of human trafficking.
Dan is fundraising for his project on an online site called kickstarter that has different reward patterns according to the amount pledged.
Watch Pushpa Basnet's CNN hero video
Growing up behind bars
Pushpa Basnet has devoted her life to helping children who are in prison for their parents' crime