Nestled in the Himalayas, Nepal is the land-locked home to Mount Everest, a neighbor to China and, for one freshman, a distant but constant call to action.
For Sujita Basnet, a freshman from Charles County, Md. studying biomedical engineering, promoting Nepal and preserving its culture has become a mission.
It’s a quest that began even before setting foot on the Foggy Bottom Campus. Basnet was crowned Aug. 20 the first ever Miss Nepal USA, a title that gave her a platform to promote the needs and culture of the country.
Basnet, who was born in America, but lived in Nepal till she was 5 years old, visits the country every few years. Her own struggles growing up in the country are another reason she’s determined to help others.
“We barely had light,” she said. “We had light at three in the morning when no one even needed light. We didn’t have running water either. We’d pull water from a well.”
In late August, a few weeks before settling on campus, Basnet beat out 27 girls at the Miss Nepal USA pageant competition in New York. Though she always had an interest in Nepalese culture, winning the pageant gave her the resources to expand her ideas and raise awareness of the country’s unique culture.
“I have a responsibility to help Nepal. Now, I can give back to my country and do what I’ve always dreamed of doing,” Basnet said.
Nepal may be relatively small, often overshadowed by other rising powers in Asia, but for Basnet, the country has a rich history, distinct culture and dynamic residents.
“It’s a small country, but it’s extremely diverse,” Basnet said. “There are more than 120 languages and over 100 different ethnic groups.”
Growing up in America, Nepalese culture has always been a huge part of her life, whether through food, religion or movies. Basnet, who grew up with her mother and grandparents, credits her grandparents for reinforcing her Nepalese roots.
“I’m so glad I go to such a diverse and international school,” she said. “People are so open and interested in other cultures. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Basnet has carved out personal goals for herself, all of which focus on giving back to the community. She hopes to promote Nepal, empower women and reach out to help and motivate youth.
Eager to get started on her goals once arriving on campus, Basnet joined the GW chapter of Babies Behind Bars. The student-run organization raises money to provide basic needs for children with imprisoned parents. In the first week of December, the group plans to collaborate with other student organizations to develop an Alternate Gift Fair to sell crafts made by the imprisoned mothers and cards made by the children.
“Though this is in Nepal and far from our consciousness, these children, ranging from toddlers to teenagers, are only a Skype call away – people can meet them, talk to them, hear their voices and see their faces,” freshman Sarah Freeman-Woolpert said. “Modern technology allows them to come into our consciousness, and as with my experience in Nepal, once you meet them and know of their situation, you can never forget it and go back to how life used to be.”
Hoping to further their involvement on campus, Basnet, along with her roommate, plan to start a GW chapter of The Girl Effect next semester.
The organization strives to educate girls in developing countries. This education can have far-reaching effects – it prevents girls from getting married at a young age, it helps minimize HIV and it allows girls to help support their families.
By actively promoting youth education in the developing world, Basnet hopes she can foster change and give other children the same opportunities she’s had.
Last year, she worked with the Nepali community and raised over $1,000, enough to help a Nepalese child go to school for two years.
“Education is the backbone to one’s success,” Basnet said.
As she returns to Nepal every few years, Basnet is continually struck by the rigid class structure and juxtaposition of status.
“One area might have high class people. Right across the street there might be poor people. They have no water, no electricity and no shelter,” Basnet said.
Though she has yet to determine which organization she will represent, Basnet plans to spend her winter break volunteering in Nepal.