QUEEN OF NEPAL

Written By: Rebecca Nimerfroh | Photography By: Brian Sager

In competing for the Miss Nepal pageant, Shradha Khatri Chhetri has a larger mission.

At least twelve hundred homeless children roam the streets of Kathmandu today. Instead of spending their childhood in school learning to read and write, they scrounge together a sad existence in Nepal’s capital city begging for food and money. Nantucket resident Shradha Khatri Chhetri has seen this suffering up close. Raised in a suburb just outside Kathmandu, she grew up watching her family take in many of these homeless children.

She was hands on, feeding them, bathing them and giving them a place to sleep. Now this twenty-two-year-old is on a mission to save more children in her native country—but she’s going about it in a way that you’d never expect.

Last month, Chhetri traveled to Queens, New York to compete in the first ever Miss Nepal North America pageant. She beat out hundreds of other applicants from the United States and Canada to join an elite group of twenty Nepalese women seeking the beauty pageant crown. If Chhetri won the distinction of Miss Nepal, she would become an international ambassador for a foundation dedicated to the children she so desperately wanted to help.

“If I win, I will be the voice of street kids who don’t have a voice,” she said, prior to the contest. “Winning this title is not to make my career—it’s for these poor children.” Chhetri’s immediate goal is to collaborate with existing organizations that provide aid. Should she secure the crown, her plan would be to learn from these organizations, and eventually establish her own foundation that would focus on educating children in Nepal. “I feel like these families don’t really understand the importance of education,” Chhetri said, explaining that school in Nepal isn’t free, “but these children are so bright, and with education, they can grow to one day give back to their community.”

Chhetri is a sterling example of the power of education. After immigrating to Nantucket at the age of fourteen, she went on to graduate from UMASS Amherst. Today, she holds deep appreciation for how the island altered the trajectory of her life. “Nantucket is a special place for me and my family,” she says. “Whenever someone asks me where I’m from, I say ‘I was born in Nepal—but I am from Nantucket.’” Today Chhetri is an aspiring actress and contracted model. Like many young girls in Nepal, she always idolized the Miss Nepal pageant winners and dreamed of one day competing.

“People think the pageant is all about looks, but it is really about female empowerment,” she says. Judges evaluated Shradha and her fellow competitors in academics, personality, charisma, and overall presentation. The four-day event had the backing of major international sponsors, magazines, and a number of high-profile Nepalese representatives. For the talent component of the contest, Chhetri performed a traditional Nepali dance wearing a traditional Nepali dress that she personally designed.

When the contest concluded after four days, Chhetri was among the top ten and was awarded the title of Most Disciplined. “It’s one of the subtitles,” she explains. “They judge you during the week leading up to the pageant. Whoever gives 100 percent in every aspect of training for the pageant, gets the title of Most Disciplined.” Although she didn’t take the crown of Miss Nepal, Shradha Khatri Chhetri remains fully committed to her mission of becoming a voice for the homeless children in her homeland. And that might just be the most beautiful part of the story.

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