Asia

Portrait of a Hero: Pushpa Basnet

Updated 1656 GMT (0056 HKT) December 7, 2012
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Pushpa Basnet, the 2012 CNN Hero of the Year, was shocked to learn that many children in Nepal had no choice but to live with their incarcerated parents behind bars. So she started a day care program for many of these children and opened a home in Kathmandu where dozens of them can live a more normal life. Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
When Basnet hears about an imprisoned child, she'll visit the prison, even in remote areas of the country, and tell the parent what she can provide. If the parent agrees, Basnet brings the child back to stay with her and her staff at the Butterfly Home in Kathmandu. Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
Basnet talks to a female prison guard to gain permission to go inside a jail in Kathmandu. Basnet was studying social work in college when she first visited a women's prison and discovered how many children had to live there. Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
A woman at a prison in the town of Nuwakot cries after sending her child away with Basnet. Basnet wants the children to maintain relationships with their parents, so she often takes them back to visit. Ultimately, the goal is to reunite the families outside prison. Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
Basnet talks to an inmate in Kathmandu. "Meeting and spending time with the children and the mothers in jail, you realize that Pushpa is their only hope," said photographer Palani Mohan. Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
Since 2005, Basnet and her staff have assisted more than 140 children, providing housing, education and medical care. "When I started, nobody believed in me," Basnet said. "People thought I was crazy." Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
"It's not fair for (these) children to live in the prison, because they haven't done anything wrong," Basnet said. "My mission is to make sure no child grows up behind prison walls." Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
Basnet reads to some of the children at the Butterfly Home in Kathmandu. "I don't ever get a day off, but if I [didn't] have the children around me, it would be hard," she said. "When I'm with them, I'm happy." Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world -- according to UNICEF, 55% of the population lives below the international poverty line -- so it lacks the social safety net that exists in most Western nations. Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
Children at the Butterfly Home say a prayer before eating lunch. Dozens of children live at the home with Basnet and some of her staff members. Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
Basnet hands out new clothes to one of the young children she cares for in Kathmandu. The children reciprocate her love by calling her "Mamu," which means "mommy." Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
"The first thing you notice about Pushpa is her huge smile to welcome you," photographer Mohan said. "She's full of energy. She has this incredibly booming voice that never stops all day, all night." Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
Basnet applies moisturizer cream to one of the children in Kathmandu. Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN
"This is what I want to do with my life," Basnet said. "It makes me feel (good) when I see that they are happy, but it makes me want to work harder. ... I want to fulfill all their dreams." Palani Mohan/Getty Images for CNN