When Pushpa Basnet, 29, visited a Nepali prison as a social work student she knew she had to act fast.
"I saw a small 8-month-old child. I could not forget her and decided to do something. These children suffer for the crimes of their parents," Basnet told the Press Trust of India.
Basnet was referring to Nepali children who live in prison with their incarcerated mothers. Without proper guardians, this is a common fate for children whose parents go to jail, according to CNN.com.
In 2005, Basnet started a home in Kathmandu to support children with incarcerated parents. On Sunday night, she was named 2012 CNN Hero of the Year for her work.
Basnet’s nomination came after a nine-week public vote held on CNN. As Hero of the Year she will receive $300,000 to continue her work and specialized training from the Annenberg Foundation, according to CNN.com.
Her home helps 140 children receive education and medical care, according to the news outlet. She also runs a daycare program for children under 6 years old who are too young to be separated from their parents.
Basnet’s organization, the Early Childhood Development Center, partners with local jail authorities to rescue children from prison, according to the organization’s website. But none of the children leave without their parents’ consent. Basnet travels to prisons throughout the country and meets with incarcerated mothers and their children. She explains to each mother what she can provide. If the mother agrees, Basnet takes the child back with her, she told CNN.
But Basnet makes sure the children visit their parents on school holidays and bring food, water and clothes when they do, according to CNN.com. Basnet has reunited 60 children with their mothers after being released, according to the news outlet.
At the Butterfly Home -- the residential home where the children live -- children receive regular medical check-ups, vaccinations and attend the local private school, according to the organization’s website.
But Basnet’s doesn’t run an institution, it’s a home. Older children take care of the younger ones and everyone pitches in with household chores, CNN reports. The children may be separated from their mothers but Basnet does her best to fill the void. They call her “Mamu” which means “Mommy” in Nepali.
"I don't ever get a day off, but if I [didn't] have the children around me, it would be hard," she told CNN.com. "When I'm with them, I'm happy."
Since her initial nomination as CNN Hero, Basnet’s organization has received a lot of attention, she told gulfnews.com pointing to the influx of cash and in-kind donations. “I was overwhelmed when a vegetable vendor offered me a kilogram of tomatoes for free for the sake of my children. It is happening too fast and I am trying to take it in slowly,” she told the news outlet.
Imprisoned mothers like Kum Maya Tamang are grateful for Basnet’s work.
"If Pushpa wasn't around, (they) could have never gotten an education ... (they) would have probably had to live on the streets," she told CNN.com. "I feel she treats (them) the way I would."
According to figures from the World Bank, only 24 percent of secondary school-aged children are enrolled.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world -- 55 percent live below the international poverty line and the nation ranks 157th out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index, according to the World Bank. An estimated 80 children live in the nation's prisons, according to Nepal's Department of Prison Management.
Basnet is determined to fight the odds of her poverty-stricken country to fulfill her children’s dreams. Upon receiving the Hero of the Year award at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Basnet spoke directly to the children she helps:
Thulani Madondo hasn't seen much improvement in the slums where he grew up in Kliptown, South Africa since the apartheid ended, so he's taken it upon himself to provide support, meals and activities to 400 children in the area through the Kliptown Youth Program. Vote for Thulani <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/index.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Haitian rape survivor Malya Villard-Appolon founded an organization that helps advocate for victims of sexual violence. The group has helped more than 4,200 rape survivors in Haiti. Vote for Mayla here. <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/2012.heroes/malya.villard-appolon.html" target="_hplink">here</a>
To combat the statistic that in Colombia, nearly in in five girls 15-19 gets pregnant, Catalina Escobar set out to decreases Cartagena's infant mortality rate. The Bogota woman was prompted by her own experience after a poor teen mom's newborn died in her arms after losing her own son in an accident. Vote for Catalina <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/16/world/americas/cnnheroes-catalina-escobar/index.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
African-American and Latino children are three times more likely to drown than white children, a tragic statistic that Wanda Butts knows all too well. Her 16-year-old son died in a drowning accident six years ago. Today, the grieving mother is trying to reduce the number of water-related deaths through her nonprofit, the Josh Project, which teaches swimming to minorities in Toledo, Ohio. Vote for Wanda <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/2012.heroes/wanda.butts.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
In order to kick his drug and alcohol addiction, Scott Strode of Boulder, Colo., took up triathlons and mountain climbing. The 24-year-old eventually started Phoenix Multisport, a nonprofit that provides athletic activities and support to people who have experienced similar issues with addiction. Vote for Scott <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/2012.heroes/scott.strode.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
So that children of Nepali prisoners aren't put behind bars with their parents, Pushpa Basnet started the Early Childhood Development Centre in 2005, an organization that offers housing, education and medical care to more than 140 kids of incarcerated parents. Vote for Pushpa <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/2012.heroes/pushpa.basnet.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Of the 2 million troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimated one in five of them has PTSD or depression, plaguing conditions that Mary Cortani is trying to alleviate through Operation Freedoms Paws. Veterans are paired with dogs from shelters or rescue groups, and are tasked with training the pooches to become service dogs, a process that is believed to help both the vets and dog find healing. Vote for Mary <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/2012.heroes/mary.cortani.html" target="_hplink">here.</a>
Though schools that provide education to Afghan girls are constantly threatened by terrorists, Razia Jan hasn't been dissuaded. She provides free education to about 350 girls in rural Afghanistan. Vote for Razia here. <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/2012.heroes/razia.jan.html" target="_hplink">here</a>
After his daughter died at the hands of an underage drunk driver, Leo McCarthy has pursued a mission to prevent other senseless deaths. For the teens of Butte, Montana who hold off on drinking until they turn 21, his organization - Mariah's Challenge - will give a college scholarship. Vote for Leo <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/2012.heroes/leo.mccarthy.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Connie Siskowski of Boca Raton, Fla., launched nonprofit American Association of Caregiving Youth in 2006 to help the 1.3 million children who care for an aging, ill or disabled family member. Her work has helped advocate for this population that otherwise may struggle in silence. Vote for Connie <a href="http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/2012.heroes/connie.siskowski.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.