As 2019 Miss Nepal U.S., Surabhi Khanal (19Ox, 21C) uses her platform and pageant prize money to lead an anti-child trafficking initiative, host a social justice TV show and sponsor a primary health clinic in Nepal. Making her presence felt in all areas of her community, the pageant queen aims to empower women and fight against female oppression worldwide.
Khanal was born in Nepal and immigrated to the U.S. when she was three years old. In 2016, Khanal founded Save Our Stars Foundation, which raises awareness about child trafficking. The following year, she launched the Fox 5 Plus TV show, “Social Justice With Surabhi” to amplify the voices of human trafficking and rape survivors. That same year, she helped sponsor MedLove, a primary health and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) clinic, located in a remote Nepalese village, through her foundation.
Save Our Stars Foundation utilizes education to fight for the eradication of child trafficking, employing volunteers to visit Virginia high schools and teach the warning signs of trafficking. The global scope of human trafficking pushed Khanal to spread awareness among younger populations.
“Child trafficking … is such an atrocity,” Khanal said. “People think of it as a third-world issue … but learning more about it made me realize that it’s almost everywhere.”
Khanal’s show, “Social Justice With Surabhi,” inviteshuman trafficking and rape survivors to share their stories and spread awereness. A Fox 5 studio producer encouraged Khanal to start the show after noticing her passion for social work and potential as an anchor while she was working as an extra in the studio. While the show is costly, supporting survivors and giving them a platform is priceless.
“We do it solely … so that they can have their voices heard and get that closure,” Khanal said.
Khanal’s show, which has received a total viewership of 6.2 million, is a seven-minute segment that airs the first Saturday of every month on Fox 5 Plus to the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Though passionate about her mission, Khanal said that working with survivors has been difficult.
“Compassion fatigue happens when you give so much that you kind of drain yourself,” Khanal said. “I want to do everything but I have to remind myself that I can’t do everything and I can’t fix everything.”
However, Khanal said she has a strong support system of friends and family that encourage her to continue her work. Her friends and roommates, Aleena Zahid (19Ox, 21C) and Komal Ahmad (19Ox, 21C), praised Khanal’s relentless pursuit of educating others about social issues.
“Knowing her personally, the work that she does isn’t just to show on Fox 5,” Zahid said. “Every opportunity she gets … she’ll educate people.”
Ahmad said she admires Khanal’s ambition and passion for social work, which inspired her to build a school in her home country, Pakistan.
“I think me and [Khanal] started talking about one of her projects,” Ahmad said. “I just remember thinking … she’s so passionate about this. I love it.”
The same year she launched her show, Khanal partnered with service organization Lions Clubs International Nepal to sponsor the construction of MedLove in Samgha, Nepal, the village where Khanal’s mother grew up. The clinic primarily serves low-income women in rural areas. Khanal fundraised through TV show sponsorships, fundraisers with local Virginia high schools and crowdfunding through GoFundMe.
Hoping to expand her social work and platform, Khanal decided to compete in the 2019 Miss Nepal U.S. pageant. She submitted an online application and completed a phone interview before being selected as a finalist to compete live. In October 2019, Khanal flew to Omaha, Nebraska for a week of intense pageant training, pre-judging, interview rounds and the finale.
During the finale, Khanal competed in a series of rounds: an introductory round where she introduced herself to the judges, a talent round where she performed an original poem, a gown walk, a Q&A session and the final crowning of the pageant queen.
Khanal said that reciting her poem, “Born in a Brothel,” during the talent round was the most exciting part of the competition. The poem, which took her two weeks to write, criticizes the widespread, devastating oppression and sexualization of women.
On Oct. 13, 2019, Khanal was crowned 2019 Miss Nepal U.S., Miss Photogenic and Miss Beauty Without Limit, and received $5,000 in prize money. Khanal sent half the money to the MedLove clinic, which equated to 292,679 Nepali Rupees, and used the remaining half on her foundation and TV show.
Khanal said she believes the pageant title has given her a platform and an obligation to use her voice to support women and girls, especially those of Nepali descent. She hopes to connect with Nepali communities across the U.S. to fundraise and raise awareness for her social work in Nepal.
“Now that I won Miss Nepal U.S., it kind of puts me as the only Nepali girl that connects the two countries,” Khanal said. “I was able to have a voice in Nepal … and America.”
Khanal had hoped to be more involved with the Medlove clinic, but COVID-19 delayed her plans. Instead, she is continuing to fundraise for the clinic through TV sponsorships and is interviewing as many survivors as possible on her show.
As she awaits for Miss Universe Nepal judges to select the 50 finalists for the live finale, Khanal is currently preparing for the Miss Universe pageant. Through Miss Universe Nepal, she hopes to connect with the international pageant organization and Nepal’s government to gather resources to further expand her cause. She especially hopes to further support her clinic and work with organizations focused on empowering women.
Through her many endeavors, Khanal said she aims to continue helping others, echoing the sentiment she proclaimed in the finale of the Miss Nepal U.S. pageant: “For the children. For humanity. Because of the social work, I am here.”
“Born in a Brothel”
“A woman pregnant with fear
Gives birth to a crying fate
Bruised and panicked
Her baby’s name
Is the brothels new rate…
….She grows older
And shes told
There is a gold mine under your waist
Her future stolen
She silently cries
And pukes of a man’s taste….”