- Nangi’s leaders were busy establishing a village high school. Pun eagerly joined in. This led, in 1997, to the donation of four used computers from Australia. Powering them with hydro generators in a nearby stream, Pun began teaching computer classes at the Nangi high school. More computers followed, but it proved impossible to get a telephone connection to Pokhara and the Internet.
- In 2001, the BBC publicized his dilemma and within a year volunteers from Europe and the United States were helping him rig a wireless connection between Nangi and the neighboring village of Ramche, using TV dish antennas mounted in trees.
- Using Pun’s “tele-teaching” network, good teachers in one school now instruct students in others. Local health workers use Wi-Fi to consult specialists in Pokhara.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his innovative application of wireless computer technology in Nepal, bringing progress to remote mountain areas by connecting his village to the global village.”
Nangi Village, where Mahabir Pun was born, rests high in the Himalayan foothills of western Nepal. Here and in surrounding Myagdi District live the Pun Magar, whose men for generations have soldiered across the globe as Gurkhas. Yet, their worldly careers have done little to change their sleepy homeland, so far from the traffic patterns that knit together the rest of the world. Indeed, Nangi is seven hours’ hard climb from the nearest road. No telephone lines have ever reached it. Despite this, these days the people of Nangi are definitely connected to the world outside. Wireless Internet technology has made this possible. Mahabir Pun has made it happen.
Pun passed his boyhood grazing cattle and sheep in mountain pastures and attending a village school that had no paper or pencils or books. Wanting more for his son, Pun’s father moved the family to Nepal’s lowlands, where, in Chitwan, Pun finished high school and became a teacher, working for twelve years to help his younger siblings through school. Finally, a timely scholarship led him to a bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Then, in 1992, after more than twenty years away, Pun returned home to Nangi, determined to make things easier for other youths than they had been for him.
Nangi’s leaders were busy establishing a village high school. Pun eagerly joined in. Once a month, he made the two-day trip to the nearest major town of Pokhara to check his e-mail and maintain his links to friends abroad. This led, in 1997, to the donation of four used computers from Australia. Powering them with hydro generators in a nearby stream, Pun began teaching computer classes at the Nangi high school. More computers followed, but it proved impossible to get a telephone connection to Pokhara and the Internet.
Pun e-mailed the British Broadcasting Corporation, asking for ideas. In 2001, the BBC publicized his dilemma and within a year volunteers from Europe and the United States were helping him rig a wireless connection between Nangi and the neighboring village of Ramche, using TV dish antennas mounted in trees. Some small grants soon led to the construction of improvised mountaintop relay stations and a link to Pokhara. By 2003, Nangi was online.
As word of Pun’s project bounced around the World Wide Web, backpacking volunteers carried more and more donated computers, parts, and equipment into the hills. Pun expanded the wireless network to embrace twelve villages-distributing ninety used computers to local schools and communication centers, connecting them to the Internet, teaching teachers how to use them, and then troubleshooting until everything worked.
Today, connectivity is changing Myagdi. Using Pun’s “tele-teaching” network, good teachers in one school now instruct students in others. Local health workers use Wi-Fi to consult specialists in Pokhara. Once-isolated students surf the Net and are learning globe-savvy skills. Villagers e-market local products such as buffaloes, honey, teas, and jams and use the Web to draw paying trekkers to campsites outfitted with solar-powered hot showers. In parallel projects, the people of Nangi have added a library, health clinic, and new high-school classrooms. Meanwhile in Kathmandu, Pun has successfully lobbied parliament to legitimize and democratize wireless technology in Nepal.
Pun, now fifty-two, is both self-effacing and charismatic. “I’m not in charge of anything,” he says. Yet, he seems to be the driving force of much around him. Eventually, he says, the people of Myagdi District will have to carry on for themselves. In the meantime, he hopes to play his unique role indefinitely. “As long as I can walk,” Pun says happily, “I can do this.”
In electing Mahabir Pun to receive the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his innovative application of wireless computer technology in Nepal, bringing progress to remote mountain areas by connecting his village to the global village.
The Honorable Chief Justice, Chairman and Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow awardees, and brothers and sisters.
All of us grow up with lots of wishes. And we know for a fact that many of the wishes that we make can’t be fulfilled. As a young boy my wishes were to have enough food to eat, and warm clothes and shoes to wear. I wished to have books to read, pens and papers to write on. As I grew older, I wished to go to college and to become an engineer so that I could get a better job and have a good life. However, many of my were wishes not fulfilled.
Memories of my old days’ unfulfilled wishes have become my vision of creating better educational opportunities for rural children and creating job opportunities for disadvantage people so that they can have meaningful, peaceful and better lives. The wireless network that we created in some of the mountain villages for educational, medical, and local e-commerce purposes was just a small part of my vision to create better learning opportunities for the children, to provide medical assistance to villagers during emergency situations, and to bring communication tools for the villagers. We still have a long way to go to make the wireless technology truly useful for the people, and to replicate the wireless network all over the country.
I am not the only person to have this vision. This was the vision of the late President Ramon Magsaysay, who worked hard to improve the lives of fellow Filipinos and helped them live freely, happily and with justice. This is a common vision of all young people, parents, and community leaders around the world, who are working hard to help others live happily with justice and in liberty.
However, I never wished to get any kind of award. For the last fifteen years, I was working only to fulfill my vision within my capacity. Therefore this award was the greatest surprise of my life, and I am very thankful for it. This award has boosted my spirit very much and I feel much younger now even if I have crossed half a century of my life.
Let me share with you my lifelong vision, for I believe that visions will only be wishes if we don’t share it and work on it. The first vision I have is to set up vocational training schools for rural people so that the young can get better jobs in the national and international job market. The second is to help people start income generating programs in rural areas that are viable there to create the local economy and to create jobs locally. My third vision is to establish a college by 2015 and a university later on for the children of poor people, who can’t afford to go to college or university. My fourth vision is to bring information and communication technology to the remote villages of my country and use it for educational, medical, commercial and communication purposes. I am working on this vision with like-minded fellows in Nepal.
This international recognition will be helpful for us to reach the visions that I mentioned. In this way, we will be able to help a little to make the vision of late President Ramon Magsaysay come true. We will make it happen not by word but by deed.