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Hero among us

By John, on 13/9/11


KATHMANDU: Who would ever wish for such a day in future when an organisation he/she established and invested entire life to make it a huge success would get closed? The answer is Anuradha Koirala, who has spent two decades of her life fighting against trafficking of woman/girl in Nepal.

The CNN Hero 2010, Koirala is hopeful that Maiti Nepal, the organisation she established in 1993 will shut its shutters someday.

“I will be satisfied when Maiti Nepal will be closed”, she adds and the date of the closure according to her “will be the day when girl/women trafficking and domestic violence will be eradicated from the nation. This is possible, if everyone from public to those in political leadership will get united and start talking and working on social issues”.

Empathy embodied

It was in the year 1991 when she saw these women begging at Pashupatinath temple area. “They were victims of domestic violence and were not able to get a job,” recalls Koirala who herself being a victim of domestic violence could easily empathise with them. During that time she was living with her only son Manish, after separating from her husband of 18 years and was working as a school teacher with a salary of Rs 7,000.

“My husband was very possessive about me and he used to beat me everyday”, shares Koirala. She helped eight of those women start Nanglo Pasal by investing Rs 1,000 on each.

Later on she rented a house and started taking care of these women’s children. “I used to feed them and look after them the whole day”.

She finished all her savings and didn’t have money for treatment when she got tuberculosis. “I had left school and I didn’t have money to get treatment”, she talks about those tough times.

Against women trafficking

She actually started working against human trafficking after Maiti Nepal was registered as organisation in 1993.

“Whenever I see traffickers, I really get angry and I don’t shy away from being cruel to them. These criminals make girls go through so much physical and mental torture”, one can feel the aggression as she says this. She was once even criticised for this attitude of hers.

One of Maiti Nepal’s major attempts was filing a lawsuit on behalf of this survivor of trafficking against the person who had sold her. They won the lawsuit and the trafficker was imprisoned.

After that, Maiti Nepal launched anti-trafficking awareness campaign in collaboration with Nepal Police, in seven districts of Nepal. “We launched door-to-door campaign to inform people about trafficking”, shares Koirala and recalls how the campaign helped Maiti Nepal. “People came to know about our existence after that and we started getting reports of cases of missing girls and women”.

The organisation got international fame when Prince Charles went to Maiti Nepal during his Nepal visit in 1998 and even talked with an HIV positive person. At that time they had actually rescued 236 women and girls from brothels of India during one of their raids. These victims were kept in shelter homes of different organisations including Maiti Nepal.

At present Maiti Nepal has Women Rehabilitation Centre, Child Protection Centre, Transit Homes, Prevention Homes, Hospice and inception point in different parts of the country.

Those in rehabilitation centre are provided skill development training and are employed in different places. Maiti Nepal at present also provides shelter to orphans who are one-day old to sexually abused children. These children are studying at the Teresa Academy, a school run by Maiti Nepal.

Long way to go

This 62-year old ardent crusader of human trafficking has helped rescue and rehabilitate thousands of Nepali victims of sex trafficking. “Our efforts have made it possible for 415 traffickers to get imprisoned; other 725 are ready to be brought to book. And we have rescued over 12,000 victims of sex trafficking”.

The winner of 2010 CNN Heroes, Koirala recently was conferred with Manhe Peace Prize by Manhe Foundation in South Korea. The winner of more than 30 national and international awards opines, “The recognition through awards always reminds me that problems still exists and I need to fight for that”.

The woman behind the hero

Born in 1949, in Shillong, India to Colonel Pratap Singh Gurung and Laxmi Gurung, she grew up with four brothers and a sister in a prosperous family.

“Our grandfathers were the residents of Rumjhatar of Nepal, but after an aunt of my grandfather (great-grandfather’s sister) was taken to the royal palace forcibly to marry, my grandfather and his family pleaded before the palace to let her go free. Instead our family was sent to Kalapani”,Koirala narrates. Her family stayed in India and Koirala completed her schooling at St Joseph Convent School at Kalimpong.

Good at both studies and extracurricular activities at school, Koirala was a very mischievous student. Her group, which included four other girls from Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sikkim, was popular in school for their naughtiness. “We never did homework, and made other students do it for us. Our Australian teacher used to kick us during physical exercise class and we would actually make him fall down by holding his legs every time he tried to kick us”, Koirala shares with twinkle in her eyes.

After completing her graduation from Calcutta at the age of 18, she came to Nepal as this was “Where my roots are, I wanted to do something here”.

Despite mischievous childhood, she regards discipline as the most important thing in life. Though she seems quite stern at first look once she starts talking you realise how warm hearted and fun to talk person she is.

For her no work means “punishment” so she prefers being busy.

Bhuwan KC’s teacher

Many of Koirala’s students at Amar Aasharsha Boarding School in Kathmandu have reached various high posts and are popular public figures. And one of them is actor Bhuwan KC whom she keeps under the mischievous category. “He was not good academically and disobeyed teachers. But he has always respected his teachers. He still calls me ‘Miss’ and even today, if he sees me he hides his cigarette.” Koirala worked as teacher in different schools for 20 years.

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