“Let’s come together to move mountains” – Anju reflects on International Women’s Day

This Women’s History Month, we’re sharing the stories of remarkable women who are part of the global movement to end the use of orphanages for good by strengthening and supporting families.

Today we hear from Anju Pun, Nepal Country Director for ‘Forget Me Not Australia’, our partner organisation.

Anju is a fierce advocate for childcare reform. She has been working with, and for, the rights of children and care-experienced young people, women, LGBTIQ+ communities, people living with HIV and socially excluded and marginalised communities in Nepal for almost 20 years.

We interviewed Anju about her work with Forget Me Not for International Women’s Day and heard how she is proud of what she is able to achieve with her ‘tiny-mighty dream team’ in Nepal and colleagues globally.

What year did you join Forget Me Not? 

Children’s and women’s rights are at the core of what I do every day.

Forget Me Not’s core mission is to support children, and I joined when the organisation in May 2014, when it was on a journey of recognising the importance of keeping children with families, the true harm orphanages cause and the need to transition to family-based care.

Forget Me Not re-designed its approach and strategy in Nepal from 2012 onwards, partnering with The Himalayan Innovative Society (THIS), a pioneer local organisation working on family reintegration and family-based care.

We joined forces with Hope and Homes for Children in 2019, a global leader in care reform. As partners, we have supported the government’s de-institutionalisation plan to reform the care system in Nepal. 

Together, we are a passionate team advocating for children. We are strong and impactful, working with local, regional and global organisations and creating powerful new practices and resources. 

What does International Women’s Day mean to you, as a leader of an organisation working to ensure every child has a safe family home in Nepal? 

Women in the Chepang community, sharing their stories of struggle and the reasons for sending their kids away to children’s homes.
Women in the Chepang community, sharing their stories of struggle and the reasons for sending their kids away to children’s homes.

International Women’s Day reminds me of how proud I am being a woman: a mother to a vibrant and confident twelve-year-old girl, and a female Country Director working alongside a passionate team of young people to ensure children are thriving, happy and connected to family, community and opportunity.

I feel privileged to take this opportunity on International Women’s Day to remind everyone that meaningful parenting and community support are essential to raising a healthy, happy child with positive life chances.

As a woman and a mother, my womb was a safe and loving home for my baby for 32 long weeks. I remember how my family, my friends, my co-workers and I, worked as a team to keep myself happy and stress-free to help ensure the safer delivery of the newborn into this world.  

As adults, it feels like a long time since our childhood days – good and bad. But we know how it feels to be loved and cared for when you are unwell, to be accepted when the world denies you and to feel protected at home.

COVID-19 shook us all and reminded us what we all want and need during emergencies. We need a place where we belong and feel safe, protected and loved. We need our families.

Children have a right to family, it is every child’s birthright protected by UNCRC, ratified by Nepal in 1990 and protected by the constitution of Nepal 2015 and the Act Relating to Children 2018. 

This fundamental human right to family is what I want for every child in Nepal and globally, and I work hard alongside my passionate team to ensure children enjoy their rights.

What is your biggest achievement or proudest moment as a leader since you joined Forget Me Not? How did this make you feel? 

Anju and team on family visits
Anju and her team during family visits in the Chitwan region

I believe that the culmination of small steps and team efforts leads to bigger change. Every day, we strive to make this world a better place for children.  

I felt proud that I had the opportunity to speak in the opening plenary session for UNDGD 2021 – ‘Children’s Right to Alternative Care’, to represent BICON for Asia-Paific. Those seven minutes and the recommendations felt so powerful to me contributing to the global care reform movement. 

My proudest moment was to see the birth of Care Experienced Network Nepal (CENN) – Shine Together, co-founded by four young people with lived experience coming together during COVID and using their voices, to demand their rights. They continue to grow and shine in everything they do – from advocating to improve care services, improving mental health and contributing to local, regional and global care reform for children.  

I feel proud of being a small part of the crucial and less travelled road of Forget Me Not, which wasn’t romantic at all. Before Forget Me Not made the transition to family-based care, we used to receive a lot more funding.

When we changed our journey, it became hard for us to raise funds to reunify and support the most vulnerable children living in orphanages, despite the fact that over 80% of them have parents, and are often trafficked in the name of better education.

It is a shame that sometimes ‘feel-good human syndrome’ (unskilled and short-term volunteering in orphanages during Nepal tours) and mostly well-intentioned donations from other countries fuels the unnecessary institutionalisation of children, orphanage trafficking, exploitation of children and family separation.  

An estimated 90% of orphanages receive funding solely from outside Nepal (Source: Elevate Children Funders Group, Funding Stream Analysis of Residential Care Nepal Country Briefing, 2017).

50% of Nepal’s nearly 30 million population are women. Women’s voices are critical in every decision-making because women understand how the deep-rooted patriarchial system and gender roles have limited women to heavy-duty household chores (mostly unpaid) and sole childcare responsibilities with little support. 

We must listen to women with lived experience- their voices can play a vital role in influencing and bringing the necessary change in the childcare system in Nepal. 

Women-led development is key everywhere. 

How do community services and access to childcare help break the glass ceiling for women in Nepal?

Community services play a vital role as part of preventive measures to stop family separation and end the era of orphanages for children.

All children thrive in loving families, communities, and cultures beneath the vast blue sky that we all love to see. 

I remember a single mother who lost her husband and was left with four young children in the hills, living in poverty and desperately seeking help from the authorities. But she was left with traffickers who took her four children to orphanages in Kathmandu. She was separated from her children for 8  years. She said, her children could have stayed safe with her if there has been any kind of access to support in her village for single mothers like her.

Early interventions, like:

  • Empowering women and men on equal partnership and parenting roles
  • Employment opportunities
  • Programmes like adult education
  • Scaling up social security schemes for single mothers and children with disabilities
  • Child day care and respite centres for children and carers

All take off the loads from women and enable them to negotiate changes in the gender roles that uplift them socially, economically, mentally and spiritually.  

What message or words of encouragement do you have for aspiring women wanting to make positive change in the world? 

Hope and Homes for Children and Forget Me Not ‘Dream Team!”

Margaret Mead, an anthropologist had said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.’ 

I strongly believe in this – and in Hope for Homes for Children and Forget Me Not’s inspiring stories of change – with shared visions, goals and aligned values upholding children’s best interest in all its work locally and globally. 

I quote my then 10-year-old daughter in 2020:

“You don’t need muscles to be strong, you need a heart full of courage.”

Let’s not fail our children. Let’s come together to move mountains and fill the world with love and kindness.

About Anju

Anju Pun is Country Director for Forget Me Not Australia in Nepal. Anju works alongside a passionate team, care-experienced young people and global colleagues to create communities where every child grows up in a safe and loving family.