Mahabir Pun is a Nepalese teacher. In 2002, he launched the Nepal Wireless Networking Project. His dream was to connect the remote villages of Himalaya to the World Wide Web. Here is how he did it. In less than a decade…
- He had a visionary father
Unlike most men of his generation, Pun’s father believed in education. In the Himalayan village of Nangi where he was born, most pupils dropped out by the age of 12. With no textbook and unqualified teachers, the students would often lose motivation to study, and the boys preferred to become Gurkhas like their dad. Albeit a former soldier himself, Pun’s father did not want his son to join the army. Instead, he sold his belongings, moved to the city with his family, and sent Pun to high school.
- He committed to improve the education of Nepalese children
In 1989 Pun got a scholarship to study at the University of Nebraska. This experience transformed him! In Nepal he had been teaching for several years, mostly to support his siblings. In America, he committed to help disadvantaged Nepalese children get a better education.
After graduating in 1996, he moved back to Nangi, where he had not been for the past 24 years. At the time, local leaders were establishing the first high school of the village. With his experience and education, Pun soon became a driving force of the project. He organized things, taught, and connected the village to the world. Once a month, he would travel to the nearest town of Pokhara, eight hours away from Nangi. This way he could have access to the Internet, keep contact with his friends abroad, and promote his school online.
- He understood remoteness was the key issue of his people
For Pun, isolation was the main reason why Himalayan villages were underdeveloped. It would take hours to go from Nangi to the nearest city, but also to the nearby villages. Moreover, the Maoist rebellion was still active in the end-1990s, and the region was dangerous. For decades the main source of income was the pension money from retired Gurkhas. For the youth, the only hope of a better life was to join the army or move to the cities. And since they had little education, their prospects were rather poor…
- He was determined to connect his village to the Internet
When he moved back to Nangi, Pun was already aware of the potential of the Internet. That’s why he dreamed of connecting his village to the web. Of course, with neither electricity nor telephone line, this was a bit of a challenge!
Luckily in 1997 Singaporean climbers stopped at Nangi. Before leaving to Mount Everest, they donated two small hydro generators. Pun installed them and could finally power the used computers he had just received.
The Internet issue proved to be more difficult to solve. Pun first used a radio phone, but the quality was terrible. Unable to find an affordable solution, he contacted the BBC and exposed his dilemma. The broadcaster publicized his question, and he got answers from all over the world. This is how he heard for the first time of the wireless technology.
Two Europeans in particular decided to take up the challenge and, despite Nepal’s political unrest, flew over to Nangi to help him. They brought wireless equipment and supported Pun in establishing a wireless connection. In September 2003, they finally connected the village to Pokhara. For the first time in history, a Himalayan village was part of the World Wide Web!
- He has unleashed the potential of his people
In 2006, the government and the Maoist rebellion signed a peace agreement. This enabled Pun to expand his Nepal Wireless Networking Project. Today 175 villages are part of it, and it has brought local people many benefits.
- Education: the Nepal Wireless Network has addressed the scarcity of qualified teachers. Mountain students now attend online classes, access educational material, and have pen friends abroad. As for the teachers, they can easily exchange tips and ideas with their colleagues.
- Health care: the network has improved the villagers’ access to health care. Whenever someone is sick, he goes to the local clinic. Whenever they have a doubt, health workers can ask doctors in Pokhora and Katmandu for advice.
- Economics: the Nepal Wireless Networking Project has allowed mountain villagers to create income-generating activities. They sell their products and offer ecotourism services to the trekkers visiting the Annapurna.
And this is all made possible by the Internet. No wonder Mahabir Pun received the Jonathan B. Postel Service Award in 2014!