Staff Spotlight: Usha Acharya
Usha Acharya is one of the most remarkable women in the world. Her passion, compassion and dedication to female education, rights and empowerment in Nepal has changed the lives of thousands of financially disadvantaged and at-risk girls. She has been the Little Sisters Fund Co-Founder & Executive Director since inception in 1998. She oversees all Little Sisters Fund (LSF) activities in Nepal, as carried out by Education for Empowerment Program (E4E), LSF’s name in Nepal.
She came from a poor, illiterate family and at a young age noticed that boys were given opportunities that girls weren’t. Usha was even sent away from her family and village when she was 7 to be the helper and playmate to a family in Kathmandu. Through good fortune, Usha was allowed to go to school as long as she completed her daily work. This was a rare opportunity for a girl in her situation. She quickly rose to the top of her class and was the first girl from her district (Tanahun) to earn a high school diploma and eventually a Bachelors in Economics.
She speaks of what inspired her to start LSF:
“My own experience of being a daughter of poor and illiterate parents from a rural village made me personally aware of how vulnerable young girls can be in Nepal. Every year I walked six days in a row to Kathmandu for education and returned home during the two months of winter vacation. As there was no other mode of transportation at that time, walking up and down the forested mountains and crossing the rivers in wooden canoes was a challenging experience for me. However, I finished my school, college and university education through hard struggle against heavy odds. It was almost a mission impossible. Today I am where I am, and doing what I am doing thanks to my education.”
After working as an officer in Nepal’s Central Bank, Usha eventually went to India to do academic reports on Girls Trafficking and Child Labor in Nepal. Prior to her role with LSF, Usha led Nepalese in-country efforts as a Senior Program Officer for Save the Children (UK) on topics including education, marginalized children, discrimination against women, and HIV/AIDS awareness. She also served as Program Officer for The Asia Foundation in Nepal, focusing on Nepalese societal well-being. Usha has earned many accomplishments. She earned a Masters of Arts in Economics from Delhi University in Delhi, India, and a Masters of Philosophy from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, India. She received her undergraduate degree from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal. She also completed courses on Women Studies at Columbia University and on International Human Rights Law at Harvard University. Usha has published two books, Primary Education in Nepal: Policy, Problems and Prospects (2002) and Girls Trafficking and Child Labor in Nepal (2011) in addition to many human rights articles.
Instead of creating an organization that rescued girls from the red-light districts, she chose to focus on prevention. Someone gave Usha the chance to go to school and wanted to do the same for other marginalized and at-risk girls. She started with one girl, who is now a nurse. Under Usha’s vigilance and caring presence, LSF has grown from supporting 1 girl in 1998 to actively supporting over 2,000 girls in 21 districts of Nepal today, with over 900 graduates. Usha has an immense amount of energy that she spreads contagiously every moment of every day. Every single “Little Sister” calls Usha either Usha didi which means “big sister” or Usha ama which means “mother.” The girls find great comfort and inspiration in the knowledge that Usha is their greatest protector and cheerleader both individually and collectively. Additionally, in the 20+ years of learning and improving the programs, the Social Welfare Council stated recently that “If the government applied the LSF program to all schools in Nepal, the situation would be changed in five years.”
Usha’s impact on the lives of the Little Sisters is unquestioned. Their academic, career, and life success beat all the odds and Little Sisters regularly outperform girls from much more privileged backgrounds. To put it succinctly, Usha is a change maker, a role model, a protector, and a Saint. There are very few in human history who have made such a positive, profound and transformative difference in the lives of so many financially disadvantaged and at-risk youth. We are so proud and grateful to Usha for her energy, compassion and commitment to making the world a better place for everyone!
Hear Usha’s own words on LSF and the impact in her spotlight video: