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A Cause to Believe In
April 30, 2012
GW student organization Babies Behind Bars raises money for children of imprisoned women in Nepal.
By Ari Massefski, Class of 2015
When Sarah Freeman-Woolpert graduated from high school in 2010, she had already decided to attend the George Washington University. But Ms. Freeman-Woolpert, a freshman in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, wasn’t sure she wanted to begin college immediately. The idea of a gap year enticed her.
“I wanted to be able to go with the flow,” she said. “I wanted to see what happened and see where it led.”
For three months, she traveled in Asia, spending six weeks each in India and Nepal. While living in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, Ms. Freeman-Woolpert began working with a non-governmental organization called the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC). This organization, founded and directed by Pushpa Basnet, who was recently named one of CNN’s 2012 Heroes, helps take care of young children whose mothers have been imprisoned.
“It’s not fair for children to live in the prison because they haven’t done anything wrong,” Ms. Basnet told CNN. “My mission is to make sure no child grows up behind prison walls.”
Ms. Freeman-Woolpert spent most of her time working at the organization’s “residential home,” a rented building in which 41 children sleep two-to-a-bed while their mothers are in prison. After returning to the United States and enrolling at GW last fall, she began raising money for the ECDC. The organization’s dream is to build a “Butterfly Home,” a permanent residence where the children can live without fear of eviction. Ms. Basnet made Ms. Freeman-Woolpert the organization’s U.S. ambassador and put her in charge of the entire fundraising effort.
At GW, Ms. Freeman-Woolpert founded the student organization Babies Behind Bars, dedicated to raising money for Ms. Basnet to build a permanent home for the children. The organization will host a banquet Tuesday evening at GW to honor Ms. Basnet and support the ECDC.
Since Ms. Basnet was named one of CNN’s Heroes, a group of individuals who make extraordinary contributions to humanitarianism, the organization’s fundraising has exploded. With the help of generous contributions from around the world, Babies Behind Bars is close to reaching its fundraising goal of $120,000, which its members estimate will allow Ms. Basnet to build the permanent residence.
“It should be very clear that this was a group effort,” said Ms. Freeman-Woolpert. “My friends have all been very involved with Babies Behind Bars. We sell local handicrafts in our room, and my friends use Skype to speak with the kids. Everyone’s been so engaged, and I couldn’t have gotten this done without my friends here.”
Karen Cieslewicz, a freshman in Columbian College, said that her involvement with Babies Behind Bars was prompted by a desire to help.
“I felt that getting involved in Babies Behind Bars was a very hands-on way to help because I knew all of the money we would raise would be given directly to the foundation, and that Sarah had spent the last summer helping and getting to the know the kids,” said Ms. Cieslewicz. “I was particularly shocked after reading the information I learned about imprisoned children in Nepal, and I really wanted to get involved in the organization.”
Andrew Beauregard, a freshman in Columbian College, said that the grassroots nature of the organization is what makes his role in the process so rewarding.
“The work we do is extremely personal, and we have the opportunity to see and talk to Pushpa and the children we’re working for via Skype,” said Mr. Beauregard. “Babies Behind Bars is an exciting grassroots means for GW students to demonstrate their global mindset and commitment to service.”
Ms. Freeman-Woolpert said she has been able to achieve things at GW that she never could have accomplished elsewhere.
“At GW, the resources, networks, and channels you need are right at your doorstep,” she said. “There are doors opened to me here that would never have been opened to me elsewhere simply because of the university’s location and its reputation.”
For Michael Farzi, a freshman in the Elliott School of International Affairs, Babies Behind Bars provides the perfect opportunity to combine his two interests: international issues and philanthropy.
“The amazing thing about Babies Behind Bars is how much of a learning experience it has been,” said Mr. Farzi. “Not only does Babies Behind Bars help a great cause on the international level, but it has also given a group of mostly freshman college students the experience of helping support a nonprofit organization, a status for which we plan to file this summer.”
Ms. Freeman-Woolpert said she intends to keep working on behalf of the children she grew to adore.
“When I was leaving Nepal last year, they asked me not to forget them,” she said. “How can I come back here and live as if I never saw what I saw?”
Students, faculty and staff are invited to attend a semi-formal banquet honoring Ms. Basnet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom. The banquet reception will feature a buffet dinner, presentations by GW students and a speech by Ms. Basnet. There will be handicrafts for sale made by the incarcerated women to support their children’s education, and the Nepali Ambassador to the United States will be in attendance. Tickets are $30 for general admission and $20 for students. To purchase tickets, contact babiesbehindbarsGW@gmail.com. For more information about ECDC, please visit www.ecdcnepal.org. Those unable to attend can also make donations to Ms. Basnet’s cause by visiting www.give2asia.org/ECDC.