Chapter 7 – Connected

The first computer lab was housed in the blue roofed building seen to the left of the original one story school.

The arrival of computers and components starting in 1997 drove the need for a dedicated computer laboratory. The first building was designed to house a computer lab and it was built next to the existing school in 2000. Using funds donated by a group of Singapore volunteers and labor donated by the village a two story building was constructed. It had room for additional classrooms along with the computer lab. After the building was completed the Singapore volunteers arrived with programs, computers and boxes of computer components.

Krishna Pun was one of the first teachers to train in computer science and still leads the students computer skills education.

Using simply constructed wooden boxes Mahabir had fashioned the early computers for the school but using the Singapore computers, components and monitors he finally had “real” computers. He started teaching the teachers and students how to use the computers. Word had gotten out through a BBC article in 2001 about Mahabir and his plan to connect Nangi to the Internet so volunteers were coming from all over the world. These volunteers brought technical skills and also taught computer science. In 2002 the Rallapalli Foundation funded two teachers from Nangi to attend a computer course and receive formal training.

The need for an Internet connection was pressing and during 2001 to 2003 there were at least three organizations and multiple individuals working on creating the wireless connection. Mahabir had a talent for working the wireless projects from many different perspectives to increase his chance at success and progress. The goal was to connect Nangi to Pokhara, a large city in western central Nepal. Remember a civil war raged and Nepal had some of the worst electricity outages in Asia. The challenges were cumulative but Mahabir Pun’s drive would put fear in a tsunami.

Have you ever helped someone realize their dream? Share your story with my readers. Join me next week and read about the many people who worked with Mahabir to realize the first wireless connection from Nangi to Ramche and the opening of the students world to new horizons.

Chapter 6 – Bigger Dreams (cont.)

Original electric pole can be seen to the right. It now holds sophisticated wireless receivers and broadcasting equipment.

During the 1990s when teachers were being trained, higher level classes were added and income earning projects were started to support the new ventures Mahabir decided the school needed to be connected to the outside world. But first he needed electricity…a steady supply not dependent on Nepal Electricity Authority which ran one unreliable line into Nangi and practiced load shedding. With the help of another donation from his Kearney friends he purchased a water powered generator which was installed below the old Nangi Village on a hillside. The hydro power was able to generate one kilowatt of power, enough to run a few lights in the classrooms and ultimately the first two donated computers.

In 1997 the first two computers arrived in Nangi with Janita, a volunteer from Australia. She managed to take the large computers of the 1990s and tear them down into components small enough to arrive in benign looking boxes and tourist suitcases. Tourists’ personal items are rarely searched and over the years many more computers and components arrived this way until the computer revolution finally arrived in Nepal and parts became available. But it wasn’t until 2002 that the first wireless network was installed and Nangi connected to the world.

DAHABAN, WESTERN TERAI DISTRICT, NEPAL – FEBRUARY 15: Three PLA soldiers are returning to their batallion after a 10 day leave, February 15, 2005 in Nepal. They carry all their belonging in a back pack, and keep close their personal machine gun as close as possible. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Getty images)

Nangi, Mahabir and the projects, like all of Nepal, limped along during the Nepalese Civil War (Maoist War) which raged from 1996 to 2006. During the early years of the war the conflicts were in the far east and west but gradually it encroached on the central Myagdi District. Mahabir insists the conflict did not stop his dream to connect the school to the world via the Internet because his activities were school related and had no political connections. Most of the Maoists were young teens and had no comprehension of the technology he was developing. Over the years of the war Mahabir kept a low profile and as we have come to understand…simply kept his head low and forged forward which is how he was able to build the first wireless network in Nepal in 2002.

Have you ever forged ahead with plans despite odds that seemed a sure bet for failure? Share your story with my readers. Join me next week for the start of chapter seven and the incredible tale of a wireless Internet in a village with no road, scant electricity and a mean annual income of $250 USD/year/family.

Chapter 6 – Bigger Dreams (cont.)

Gathering building, bathroom and cook house at old Nangi campground.

Mahabir Pun developed five income earning projects between 1994 and 1996 with the help of his Village Development Committee (VDC) and various non-governmental organizations (NGOs). His first project with the Institute for Himalayan Conservation (IHC) was to build a campground at the top end of Nangi Village. The IHC was working on nature conservation projects in the area and it was a good fit because of the many tourists who had started coming to the Myagdi District. They were not only volunteers at the school but looking for a different trekking experience; off the crowded traditional trails such as Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit. A desire to avoid the mistakes made during the early tourist crush of the 1960s and 1970s, such as depletion of natural resources, served as a grounding drive for the early campground development which used composting toilets and solar hot showers.

Terraced tent area at original Nangi campground was replaced with a modern lodge in 2011.

Also in 1994 through his contacts in Nebraska money was raised to buy the first yak for the yak breeding project. The yaks needed a higher elevation than Nangi so it was started on the slopes of the Annapurna mountains several hours walk from Nangi in an area called Khopra (3660 m). The ultimate goal was to develop a crossbreed herd composed of Dzo (male) and Dzomo (female) which are bred by crossing a yak and cow. They have all the attributes of yaks being strong and capable of carrying heavy loads but the females produce very rich milk which is used primarily for production of cheese. This gave rise to the third income earning project: cheese production. Two other smaller projects were started in Nangi: jam making by the Aama Suma (local women’s group) and rabbit breeding.

Map of local villages in Myagdi District.

Khopra proved to be an enticing region which faced Annapurna South and was a days walk to the sacred high lake called Khayer Lake at 4500 meters. Because the villages had to staff the area with yak herders another campground was developed in Khopra along the magnificent ridge through funding by the IHC to accommodate the more adventurous tourists.

Mahabir’s larger dream to build better schools and improve the finances of the local villages (Nangi, Ramche,Tikot and Paudwar) rapidly took shape and then came to a screeching halt when the Maoist War started in 1996. Have you ever had to put a goal on hold due to circumstances larger then yourself. Share your story with my readers and return next week for more adventures.