The girls of Maiti Nepal were busy cooking sel-roti, the doughnut shaped, deep-fried bread, quintessential for the Nepalese during the festival of Tihar. It was 11 in a sunny morning. The girls showed largely an upbeat mood in the rehabilitation center as their beloved Dijju, Ms. Anuradha Koirala, was selected by CNN as one of the 10 Heroes of 2010. The ubiquitous smell of the delicacy permeated through the reception and went upstairs, all the way to the meeting hall, where the interview took place. Ms. Koirala sported the unmistakable round tika between her eye-brows.
Ms. Koirala, who was born in Shillong, the capital of North-Eastern state of Assam, has shown a lot of audacity and altruism since her naïve and, by her own accounts, privileged childhood. But the roots to her feistiness and inspirational work can be traced back to the early days. While a student at St. Joseph’s Convent, Kalimpong, it was a common practice for teachers to kick the students during physical exercise drills. Everyone, including the nuns and the seniors, took note of the fact that she and her four friends openly confronted the kicking teachers to stop their physical harassment. It was also in her schooldays when she heard about Mother Teresa and her work with the lepers. Inspired by the nun’s social work, Ms. Koirala often prayed to the almighty to bestow her with generous thoughts so that she too could help the needy. When the school was in recess, she often accompanied her mother to help the lepers.
Don’t be fooled by her humble mannerism and tepid smile for her work with the victims of women trafficking and children are the true reflections of her towering personality. Under her guidance, Maiti Nepal has rescued and rehabilitated over 12,000 girls/women, who were trafficked into the sex trade industry, mostly in India. Numbers aside, Maiti Nepal complex today can boast of an administrative building, a school, a clinic, a women’s rehabilitation center, and a child protection center.
Ms. Koirala, a daughter of an Indian Army Officer, singles out gender disparity as the main cause for trafficking. Unlike boys, daughters are seen as someone who will be married off to another family. So, investing in a girl’s future is not a common practice. Government’s pseudo free-education programs costs 3500 rupees per student at the time of admission. Its lack of willingness to make education compulsory and levy fines for non-compliance add as further barriers. The lack of job opportunities and poverty all contribute towards trafficking of women/girls but even among these factors one finds gender disparity as an underlying cause. Girls are lured away from their parents in the villages with promises of jobs in the cities. The parents are made to believe that the income generated would be essential to cover the cost of their daughter’s wedding. The first year’s advance is paid up front with assurances of future earnings. It is portrayed as if only the girls need the money for marriage, although it’s a well known fact that one needs money to finance any wedding, including that of a boy.
On a lighter side of things, Ms. Koirala lists music and dance as hobbies. She likes to listen to any soothing music, albeit in late night hours due to her day’s workload. The night before, she confessed, she was checking songs that she intends on teaching the children living inside Maiti Nepal. As a big admirer of Ambar Gurung, Tara Devi and Gopal Yonjon, she is drawn towards Nepalese songs that reflect the true sentiments and ethos of Nepal. Amongst the young musical talents, she enjoys Anju Panta, Yam Baral and Ram Krishna Dhakal amongst others.