Conversation with Sujita: First runner up of Miss Universe Nepal 2020

Raised by a single mother in a low-income household, Sujita Basnet had a tough childhood. The 27-year-old has been born and brought up in the United States with all the values of a Nepali household.

But determined to get a good education, she beat all odds and graduated with a Bachelor in Biomedical Engineering from George Washington University. With a passion for pageants, she is currently working as a management consultant for Accenture.

What ignited the passion for pageantry?

I started pageantry in 2011, by mistake. At an event, I randomly decided to audition for Miss Nepal US. And I ended up making it to New York for the finals and won that year.

After that, I realized that I had a misconception about pageantry. I always thought it was all about the glitz, glam, and being a model but it wasn’t that at all. It was more about being a leader, building and finding your voice, and giving a voice to others that need it. That side of pageantry brought out this passion in me.

Since 2011, I’ve been doing pageants. And now that I’m 27, it’s kind of the end of pageantry for me, because 28 is the cut-off age.

Tell us more about your MUN journey.

It has been incredible going into MUN. Although I’ve done multiple pageants throughout the past 10 years here in the US, I went in very nervous. I was confident of my talent but my nervousness came from being in Nepal and interacting with other Nepali women.

But immediately from day one, it was just an incredible experience. We gained an abundant amount of knowledge in different fields. It wasn’t just hair and makeup. But we had experts from the education, financial field, and many different fields coming in to give us talks. And so it was impactful for me that MUN went that far, to plan our training in such a way that even if you don’t go home with a crown, you leave with so much knowledge and connections. The entire journey was eye-opening for me.

What were some of the notable moments from MUN?

The best moment was definitely getting to meet the top 18 girls in person and creating that sense of sisterhood. I know this sounds cliche. But when we all walk away from the pageant and look back even 5-10 years from now, it’s those bonds and sisterhoods that will stick with us.

Secondly, I valued getting that chance to go to Nepal and say that I was one place close to representing Nepal internationally because I always thought I would never have that opportunity, having been born and raised in America.

Did you face any struggles during MUN?

Yes, the first was the time difference. So in the first three weeks of the semi-finals, it was virtual training. And I still hadn’t arrived in Nepal yet. So, I did the training in the US. I was also still working because I hadn’t quit my job at that point yet.

So, I would work from 8 am to 5 pm. Then, I would log in from 8 pm, all the way up to 5 am for the training. I barely got sleep for those three weeks and I was like a zombie. I think the biggest struggle for me was not having any sense of sleep and my body just feeling like mush.

Could you tell us a little about your organization – LibErated?

It is not an organization yet, as it hasn’t been established. I started this project called LibErated, and the E is capitalized because it stands for education.

In 2013, I was in college and had a fellowship for which I chose to go to a remote village in Western Terai Nepal for three months. There I researched child labor and specifically on girls from the Kamlari community.

During those three months, I was there as a peace fellow. And my task was to document the lives of young girls that had been sold to bondage child labor through blogs and vlogs. When I came back from our fellowship, I realized that just writing the stories and highlighting their lives wasn’t enough for me.

In 2016, we started LibErated, and the core idea is that through any sense of education, access to resources, access to financial literacy, access to family planning, we think it’s really important to empower young girls to become liberated in their ways. We give individuals from marginalized castes and classes the chance to get a bachelor’s degree or any sort of higher degree that they need to move forward, along with a one-year job opportunity.

Then we send our scholars back into the real world and hope that at that point, they found their mini sense of being liberated.

What advice do you have for aspiring pageants?

One message that I have for young girls is just go for it. And I know saying “just go for it” sounds cliched, but we learn as we go. Sometimes over-preparing yourself for something can actually mess you up. But, if you go forward, you know exactly where you need to work. Invest your time in important things.

Post MUN, what does a day in your life look like?

I’m working full time as a consultant for Accenture. So I’m pretty much working all day. And then after that, during early mornings or late nights, I’m taking calls and trying to set up my work for the year ahead.

What did you think of the crown Apala made?

When we first saw it, all of us were just speechless because it’s almost revolutionary in Nepal’s context for a crown like that to be presented. After all, most of the pageant crowns in Nepal are gold. It was a modern, elegant and sophisticated crown that someone would be wearing internationally to represent Nepal. Also, I think the crown just embodies everything of a Miss Universe Nepal.

What are your hopes for future collaborations with Apala?

Just seeing the vision that they had for the crown, I think Apala is modern, and at the same time carries a lot of the traditions intrinsic to Nepal. So I do hope to continue to work with Apala if there are opportunities.

What are your plans for the future?

I think the future is kind of my playing ground right now. If you’d asked me this question a year ago, I probably would have said this is my goal in five years or even two years, but now I think my goals are shifting. So I don’t know, but I do know it’s gonna hold something grand and I’m excited.