Anuradha Koirala also is known as Dijju, is one of the most popular Nepalese social activists of India and the founder of Maiti Nepal, which was started in 1993. She was born on 14th April 1949 and she has started social work during her school days at St. Joseph Convent School, in Kalimpong. Then she witnessed the work of the Mother and sisters of that school.
In the 1990s, she would walk by Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath Temple every morning to meet the women who were begging on those streets. After the conversation with them, she realized that they were all survivors of gender-based violence. This emphasized dealing with physical and emotional trauma. From that moment of connection and helping those innocent women, she trucked her way of becoming Nepal’s Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa taught Koirala when she was growing, and she learned that her purpose in life was to be in service of the needy. In the 1990s, after 20 years of working as a teacher, she decided to step into a more substantial role in protecting vulnerable children and women.
“Every day, there was battering. And then I had three miscarriages that I think [were] from the beating. It was very difficult because I didn’t know in those days where to go and report [it], who to…talk to.”
At the beginning she got only 8 women, whom she educated about women’s empowerment, encouraging them to stop begging. However, as her work was quickly growing, she founded the non-profit Maiti Nepal, whose aim was on solving a massive problem in Nepal – sex trafficking.
The number of traffickers increased rapidly as a result of the high rates of poverty and illiteracy in the country. While hiding the horrible reality of sex trafficking from the families, they would show them the dreams of employment or money. Koirala developed a way to start rescuing the girls and women who had been taken from underprivileged sections of Nepal and sold into sex slavery in India.
“These are poor regions with high illiteracy rates. If a relative or friend turns up offering someone a job, it is often the girls’ parents themselves who encourage them to go, without realizing what is really happening. “
Because of the porousness and openness of the 1,750km border between Nepal and India, her intervention was more than necessary. Indicators showed that the human trafficking across that border has risen by 500% since 2013, which is in number, in 2016, more than 23,000 women and girls trafficked. Some NGOs estimated that the number could quickly rise to 40,000 in another year.
Working with the local law enforcement to rescue operations, Maiti Nepal was active across 26 different points on the India-Nepal Border. Recently trafficked women are sent to 11 transit homes that shelter them. The organization has developed over the years and now it runs empowerment programs, awareness campaigns, and vocational training initiatives for survivors.
Koirala intends to ensure that these women can lead productive, independent lives in the society. Employing the former victims, the organization conduct searches at border transit points and has trained them to identify possible trafficking victims. Some of the victims are recently employed in a cafe in Kathmandu where previous victims act as chefs, cashiers, and waitresses.
Additionally, Maiti Nepal runs three prevention homes for at-risk girls to educate them about trafficking dangers. Running two hospices for children and women with HIV/AIDs, and one school, it caters to over 1,000 children. Helping in catching trafficking criminals, Koirala assisted in the prosecution of more than 700 traffickers.
Her work was awarded 38 national as well as international awards, including CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2010 and India’s prestigious civilian award, the Padma Shri. The total number of rescued women and children over the years is more than 18,000.
Some of the other national and international awards include Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu Medal- Nepal 1999, Trishaktipatta Award 2002, Best Social Worker of the Year Award- Nepal 1998, German UNIFEM Prize 2007, Queen Sofia Silver Medal Award 2007, The Peace Abbey, and Courage of Conscience 2006. Thanks to her continuous struggle, the Government of Nepal now recognizes 5th September as an anti-trafficking day.
she was also appointed as a former Assistant State Minister of Women Children and Social Welfare.
Today, Nepal’s Mother Teresa is at the age of 70, but she continues working uncompromisingly for this cause and does not plan to give up anytime soon.
She says, “When I see their pain — their mental pain as well as physical pain — it is so troubling that I cannot turn myself away. This gives me strength to fight and root this crime out.”
In a video played during the 2010 CNN Heroes program, she stated:
“Just imagine what would happen if your daughter was standing there, and if your daughter was there, what would you do? How would you fight? So you have to join hands. You have to take each child as your daughter.”
“I want a society free of human trafficking. I hope I will make it happen one day,” she added with tears in her eyes.