“Doing good work shouldn’t stop! Even if I die doing some good social work for others at least my soul would be in peace. It is my interest and I find happiness in serving others so I will keep on doing social work.” Believes Anuja, the 19-year-old Role model of Makwanpur who has been working passionately against human trafficking, child marriage, and child labor issues in her community.
Anuja, currently the Advisor of the Local Child Network of Makwanpur has been balancing her studies and her social advocacy. Inspired by the other advocates and activists visiting her schools and giving information and conducting awareness on gender issues, women issues, and other social issues existing in her society, Anuja also thrived to achieve a change and address the social issues hindering the development of her community.
“I was always curious and motivated by the other people who visited our schools from different organizations and conducted awareness programs. I also wanted to be like them and often participated in the programs, events, and training to nurture my skills and abilities.” Says Anuja.
Stepping into the path of Activism
In November 2017, a Child Network was established with the help of enthusiastic activists like Anuja in the Makwanpur District. The child network became a medium to work on the issues related to child marriage, child abuse and also lobby the local government for making the place Child Friendly.
They started with capacity-building training for themselves and the other enthusiasts of their community. They built up their leadership skills within themselves and enhanced their abilities to advocate in the community.
“We initially worked to develop our skills by taking various training, attending leadership programs. However, we didn’t limit our learnings, but also shared our learnings with other children and friends in our community which helped strengthen our networks, which made us feel motivated even more.” Shares Anuja.
Step-by-Step their efforts to make their community Child Friendly gained success in December 2019, when their Manahari municipality adopted the Child Friendly Local Governance Implementation Guideline to make the place child-friendly free of child marriage and child labor. Setting up different indicators to acknowledge issues of children at their local level, Anuja, and her team were able to establish Manahari Municipality as Child Friendly and tackled the problems that went again the child-friendly policies with determination and passion.
“According to the policy in Nepal, there should have been at least 10% budget allocation for the Children sector, 15% in the local level if it is Child-friendly Local Government, but in our case, we only have 0.02% budget allocated for the Children which is very unfair to the 15,000 children in Manahari Municipality. So, we raised our voices against this unfairness and did many interactions, and lobbying to the stakeholders regarding the issue. It did take a lot of effort and patience but we succeeded in getting the commitment from the Local Government for including more budget for the Children Sector.” Says Anuja.
The thorns of the Journey
The path to being a social worker and standing as a role model wasn’t always easy for Anuja. Being a blooming flower, she had many thorns to encounter in her journey toward achieving success.
“While some people appreciated our works, some were there who made us feel worthless, our works unworthy, and are against the societal values. The people in the society even attempt to stop us by complaining to our family, spreading wrong news about our activism, and trying to degrade our works.” Sadly, says Anuja.
But she believes that Wrong is Wrong! So, it is very important to address wrongdoings and make necessary changes so that their won’t be any problems in the future. She believes that despite any level of people, whether they are rich, well-known, close relatives, or any other category if they are doing wrong that may cause potential harm to someone’s life then it should be reported and acted staying within the boundaries of the law.
“There was a situation once when I attempted to stop child marriage the society and some people came to my home and threatened me and my family. My family also tried to convince me to stop my case on the child marriage but I went and took legal actions towards the people and obtained success in making them confess their misbehavior and made them apologize.”
Anuja is constantly pressurized to involve in income-generating activities rather than social works which put her at risk as well. But she trusts her work would bring some change and self-satisfaction that would help her soul to be in a peaceful state.
The smiles of her Journey
The thorns of her journey are covered by the achievements that shower soft smiles of motivation on her. Her efforts have been rewarded by the empowered community members who support her to stand against child marriage. The parents and guardians themselves have been aware and do not allow their children to be married at an early age. If they also get information about such happenings, Anuja and her team are one of the first people to e informed about it.
“It is motivating when our juniors come up to us and inquire us about the different social issues, about how they also want to get involved to help us and take us as the role model to shape their own lives. It is a huge success for me to be able to be a role model and get support from many people including seniors and juniors.” Proudly says Anuja.
Even during COVID-19, we didn’t stop going door-to-door to aware of the social issues and stop Child Marriage from taking place. During this COVID itself, we managed to stop two such cases of Child Marriage in our community.
“It was the case of Child Marriage which involved love affairs of the young people. Both cases involved the children themselves initiating their marriage without their guardian’s consent. However, we were able to stop and take both cases to a mutual understanding with the help of the local police, ward representatives, child network advisory, and advisory of Child Department of the local area.” Shares Anuja.
Anuja had also been a part of the Girls Take Over during the International Day of the Girl Child in 2021, taking over the role of Vice President of Manahari Municipality. She had addressed the issue of Online Safety, especially which is an integral topic for children during COVID when all are available on social media. The attempt made it possible to include the topic of Online Safety in the Child-Protection Act 2078 in Manahari. Similarly, Anuja is also involved in organizing and implementing the Dialogue Sessions related to the Golden 1000 Days and Child Development Topics through the Children Dream Project with the support of Plan International and other organizations. She also does a Radio Drama program in her community to aware of gender issues and is trying to expand the initiative to a much larger audience.
“It would be nice if Plan International Nepal will also help us to expand our Radio Drama Program to other districts as well. I feel it is a nice initiative and can be taken to a next level with support and help.” Recommends Anuja.