PUSHPA Basnet, the winner of this year’s CNN Hero contest, provided a chance at life to children of incarcerated parents by building shelter homes for them from scratch. These children would otherwise have spent a significant part of their lives inside jails, for no fault of their own. Thus Basnet’s work deserves as much respect and admiration as Anuradha Koirala’s, the founder of Maiti Nepal and the first CNN Hero title winner from Nepal. But unlike Koirala, Basnet is young, educated, and urbane. In other words, she is from a demographic that is thought of as increasingly disillusioned by the state of affairs in the country. The perception is that this group tends to complain of lack of opportunities in Nepal, and grabs every chance to go abroad in search of better opportunities. Basnet is perhaps the most notable exception of this stereotype. Her recognition resonates with the youth that desperately lack role models who have stayed in Nepal and contributed to the society. When questioned about her motivation, Basnet humbly replies: “I had a very fortunate life, a good education, I should give it to somebody else.”
Basnet was only 21 when she started her shelter home. Her youth and her comfortable family background made many question her motivation and capability, especially when weighed against the gravity of the task she had undertaken. Many urban youths can identify with the doubts that she faced, but unlike others who would tend to give up rather easily, Basnet persevered. She worked hard to convince her parents as well as the parents of jailed children that she was committed to the project. She has proven that anyone who is motivated enough can contribute positively to the society, while also making a name for themselves, not just in the country but right across the world. Her motivation and dedication, for which she was honored by CNN, is something that all Nepalis should take inspiration from.
But Basnet’s victory also highlights some interesting phenomena. For six years, CNN has been honoring ten heroes each year, who are chosen from nominations submitted on CNN’s website. Finally, the hero of the year is chosen through several weeks of public voting through electronic media. The trend of choosing a winner through public votes has become popular of late among “reality shows” on television, and there is serious doubt about who actually profits from these votes apart from the cell phone and internet companies. Nonetheless, voting on these shows continues unabated, inviting speculation in Western countries that the youth might be more interested in voting in these glitzy contests than in the much more important political elections. Thankfully, that seems not to be the case with Nepali youth, who have been as keen to vote for real-life heroes (Pushpa Basnet and Anuradha Koirala) as for their entertainment idols (Prashant Tamang). It is interesting that citizens of a country like Nepal with so little internet penetration (18.28 percent as of June 2012) have led their compatriots to victory each of the two times that Nepalis have been shortlisted for CNN Heroes award, in a competition where all the voting is done through electronic media. Perhaps the educated and urban youths of Nepal, who are the most prolific users of electronic media, are not as apathetic or indifferent as they are thought to be.