Wireless guru


He had just arrived from Pokhara and was leaving for Manila the very next day. He could have said he didn’t have time (and he would have been justified), but our Ramon Magsaysay Award winner Mahabir Pun took out time to share the story of his journey so far.

Pun has won the Magsaysay Award 2007 for community leadership for his innovative application of wireless computer technology that has connected his village Nangi to the

global village.

Those yesteryears

Born on January 1, 1955, Pun was the eldest of six children of Krishna and Purbi Pun. Simple and carefree is how he describes his childhood days that he spent chasing birds and catching frogs in the river with friends.

“We led a simple life in Nangi, with no electricity, fuel or vehicles. The first electronic good I saw was the radio a lahure (soldier) had brought. I was so fascinated by the ‘talking and singing’ box that once I sneaked into his room and searched for the small men and women that I believed lived inside it,” shares Pun with a wide grin.

He grew up listening to the British Gurkha soldiers’ talks about ships, plains and trains. As education was not much of importance in the Magar-Pun society then, he recalls, “There was no teacher, so the retired British Gurkhas of our village use to teach us whatever they knew. We did not even have proper pen

and paper and used homemade wooden board and soft stones.”

Memories of his Baba

“Baba (father) was a British Gurkha soldier and a very positive and futuristic person. He believed that nothing was impossible if one worked hard enough on it,” says Pun adding that it was his father who made him leave the village after Class VIII and move to Chitwan for further studies.

Pokhara was the first place he visited outside his village.

“I must have been around eight, Baba was going there to collect his pension and I tagged along to see the sahar (town). That was the first time I saw a bicycle and a plane. I spent my two-day-stay just watching the plane at the airport,” he recalls.

He remembers the journey back clearly as he had to carry four-pathis of salt.

“It was a four-day-walk and the sack was really heavy. I remember crying a lot,” says Pun.

But then I was just a child, he adds as an afterthought.

As for his mother, “though she is uneducated, she is a woman of great understanding and thoughts”.

American dreams

By the time of his SLC his family had shifted to Chitwan, and after SLC, he joined the Amrit Science College. As his parents had invested everything in his studies, he started teaching at a local Chitwan school after ISC to support his family. However, after teaching for 12 years

he decided to continue his studies.

He received a scholarship in the US and completed his Master’s degree in Education at the University of Nebraska, Kearney.

“In the US, I discovered this environment to study. I use to spend 13-14 hours in the library. In that alien world, I was supported a lot by Professor Leonard Skov. During my childhood, we didn’t have any books in our village. I once read a history book Baba gave me about kings and Ranas. So during my studies abroad I devoted myself to books,” he says.

That’s when he discovered Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and Karna Shakya’s Soch.

“Soch has encouraged me a lot in life, and Around the World has taught me to take up challenges as nothing is impossible,” says Pun.

His real work

He returned to his village after 24 years in 1992 for good, and married Om Maya Pun with whom he has two daughters. “I am more of a traveller, so I never thought of settling down. But due to my mothers insistence, I married at the age of 41,” he says.

After working at establishing a high school in Nangi, he received four second-hand computers from Australia as donation in 1997. Then using hydro-generators, he got the computers to work and taught his students computer.

But with no telecommunication there was no chance of an Internet connection in the village. With help from BBC and volunteers from USA and Europe, Pun rigged a wireless connection between Nangi and Ramche village using TV dish antennas mounted on trees and constructed a link to Pokhara.

By 2003, Nangi was connected to the world.

Dreams beyond

From that day to the Magsaysay — it was destined to happen. But Pun believes his journey does not end here. He has a lot of plans. He wants people who go abroad for work to get basic training in their own village; he wants to start income generating programmes on a larger scale; and start better education system for higher studies in rural areas.

“I don’t think I have achieved much, or that I have brought about a revolution. A lot has to be done. Time is changing and so is the world, and no matter how long it takes, Nepal

will change for the better for we have that potential,” asserts this simple great man from the hills.