The daughter of a former Indian Army colonel has become Nepal's new global hero, receiving a prestigious American award for her relentless work to prevent the trafficking of women and children from Nepal and rescuing over 12,000 victims.
Anuradha Koirala, daughter of Col Pratap Singh Gurung of the Indian Army, and former student of St Joseph's Convent in eastern India's hill town of Kalimpong, gave a politically volatile Nepal a worthy cause to rejoice when she was declared the CNN Hero of the year 2010 at a gala in Los Angeles late on Saturday. The event was also attended by Hollywood stars Demi Moore, Halle Berry and Jessica Alba.
There were fireworks at Maiti Nepal in celebration, the anti-trafficking NGO founded by the frail, 61-year-old former school teacher on the premises of her own house in 1993 with eight others and that made her win the $100,000 award after eight weeks of online voting.
Koirala, known by her trademark huge dot on the forehead and spartan sari, beat nine other shortlisted nominees, including India's chef with a conscience, Narayanan Krishnan, whose Akshaya Trust has become a byword for feeding the homeless in India's Madurai city.
Maiti Nepal, which means mother's home in Nepali, is the best-known anti-trafficking organisation in Nepal, running transit homes on the India-Nepal border to prevent women and children from being sold to India's brothels, rescuing them by conducting raids with peer groups in India and since 1999, also running a hospice in Jhapa in eastern Nepal for trafficking survivors diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
The victims rescued by Maiti Nepal include girls as young as 14 who were sold into sex slavery in India at the age of nine.
In Kathmandu, Maiti Nepal also runs the Teresa Academy, a 10th-grade school to provide education to the rescued children and children of trafficked women living in its shelter. The rehabilitation work is bolstered by the legal unit of the NGO that seeks legal action against traffickers.
Last week, before the award was announced, Koirala had told a local weekly in Kathmandu that her aim was to see Maiti Nepal close down one day - when trafficking would be eradicated.
According to a report by the US State Department, about 12,000-15,000 women and children are trafficked to India across the porous border every year.
On the day Koirala won her award, Nepal police arrested a woman in the southern Saptari district, Nirmala Bhujel, for trying to sell a 14-year-old girl in India's Mumbai city, under the guise of getting her a well-paid job in Kuwait.
"I never thought I would get this international recognition when I started Maiti Nepal," a tearful Koirala told Nepali daily Republica from New York after being declared the CNN winner.
"Looking back at the struggle during those formative years, I can now say that anything can be achieved with perseverance and hard work."
The award also carries an additional $25,000, which goes out to all the shortlisted 10 nominees.