Following two rounds of careful deliberations, a panel of Miss World Judges, as well as Miss World delegates and staff, selected the Project of Miss Nepal Shrinkhala Khatiwada as the winner of the Beauty with a Purpose Award from among the 25 videos that were shortlisted. The selection was held at the Moulin Rouge Theatre at the Mangrove Tree Resort World in Sanya, China on 3rd December
The Beauty with a Purpose project initially comprised of a four-day trip to Kailash Rural Municipality, Makwanpur, Nepal. Khatiwada had always wanted to work for a social cause, especially to eradicate gender-based violence. She had been hearing about the Chepangs and the fact that they had been living the same way for ages was one of the reasons for showcasing them. The Chepangs were not receiving the necessary attention that they should and were often neglected by the nation. So when contemplating ideas for her project, the Chepangs were the obvious choice. She had thought that with her academic achievements and her proficiency in architecture, she could execute the necessities of the project properly and work on it long term.
Among the many project choices, Khatiwada chose constructing a health post as she needed immediate results and it would also remain there for years to come, unlike awareness programs. She feels that awareness programs can be effective in their own way, but it cannot bring immediate change as it takes years for it to come into effect. Another point to note is that awareness campaigns should not limit the boundaries of the Beauty with a Purpose project and can be done at any point in one’s career, either through social media or through volunteering. She wanted to use her leverage as Miss Nepal and being at the peak of her career, she wanted to construct something that she would be proud of. Keeping in mind that she wanted to build a health post that would sustain the Chepang community for years to come, Shrinkhala was determined to leave a mark as Miss Nepal. She further believes that if a health post were to be built after she became former Miss Nepal, then people would not take her that seriously and she would not be able to collect sufficient funds.
Shrinkhala takes pride in her project as it was her own initiative that brought it to life. Moreover, she had used her accumulated knowledge and skills (about architecture) inculcated throughout her life and put it to use. By augmenting various aspects of the project, she was able to draft proposals, make sketches for the building, co-ordinate between various organizations, all the while also focusing on her photo shoots and other personal matters. Given just four months for the project, she felt like a one-man army tackling a battalion of soldiers and the pressure that was inflicted gave her more confidence to persevere.
Throughout her journey, Shrinkhala faced a lot of obstacles as she did not have a team. Fund collection, research, proposal formulation and communication were the hardest tasks for her on her own, but she managed to overcome all that in time. The Miss Nepal duties were already like a full-time job and along her journey she embraced her responsibilities and learnt to balance her daily routine.
It was challenging for Khatiwada to convince people into believing in her, and believing that her cause could help reveal the struggles of many. Fortunately, people saw her sincerity and helped in any way they could. Many international and national companies donated considerable sums of money and she was able to provide health, security and warmth during the winter to the Chepangs.
Another aspect that limited Shrinkhala during her project was the treacherous path that led up to the Chepang community. The perilous path through Makwanpur’s deep river almost drowned their vehicle and the numerous landslides were all the more intimidating. Once they got there, the inhabitants were frightened by their presence as the community is not used to visits from city people and from more advanced areas. The children did not laugh, the adults hesitated to speak and the village watched in silence. But, the more Shrinkhala visited the village, more aspects were revealed and more individuals started to speak up. Seeing this, she took the chance to interview them and to understand all their struggles. Some film directors even cried at the miserable condition of the Chepangs, and some questioned if it was right to be using the Chepang’s vulnerability to their benefit. This epiphany hit the producers hard, but Shrinkhala knew that if these conditions were not revealed to the public, then nobody would realize the importance of lending a helping hand. Later, all of the filming paid off as many citizens, organizations and companies donated clothes, funds and daily necessities.
Though the project started out as a plan for Miss Nepal, as time passed by, Shrinkhala got attached to the Chepang community. She felt like the guardian of this community, and wanted to bring a revolutionary change for them. Upon closer inspection, the uncanny things such as child marriage, untimely death, witch-doctors, very large families were a norm among Chepangs. Khatiwada shares an experience where she and her filming team were caught off guard at 11 pm by a forceful noise that sounded like sticks banging on a solid floor. “It was like the opening of a horror slasher,” she says. The night was eerie with no electricity at all, and they weren’t sure if they should step outside. Finally, they followed the banging noise, but could not locate the source of the noise that first night. But on the second night, they were successful; it was coming from the witch-doctors. Such superstitions were prevalent across the little village and many religiously believed in it.
Now that Shrinkhala has spoken about the Chepangs and brought their troubles to light, she feels a greater sense of responsibility and purpose; to carry on with the project and improve their living conditions. She frequently visits the village she helped and is determined to continue her support. Moreover, she is now researching sustainable economic growth within the community to promote enduring resources such as blankets and clothes which will surely deplete in the coming years.
“I am not someone who is driven by emotions. I tend to think from my brain rather than from my heart. If someone is suffering during the winter, rather than giving my jacket to them, I would work keenly in finding a permanent solution of distributing clothes and blankets to them. The way the elderly villagers suffered through various ailments, the fact that children were denied basic resources, turned my empathy to determination. So, I cannot stop at this project. It is my duty as a human being to bring proper living standards into this community," concludes Shrinkhala Khatiwada.