The year is winding down and by this time tomorrow I will be reflecting on the past, then tossing it aside for the fresh breathe of a new year. As I reflect on the progress of the Wireless Prophet book I am deeply grateful to all of you who return daily…weekly…or monthly…to read the story of Mahabir Pun. I appreciate your support, suggestions, and comments. Many of you have enriched the content by sharing your personal stories and photographs about Mahabir. Many of you have used social media to encourage more readers. Finally, there are few words to adequately describe my appreciation to Mahabir for continuing to support the book and provide me with personal glimpses into his life.
This coming year I plan to organize the blog into chapters that you can find tabbed at the top of the blog. This will make reading easier and enhance the flow of the story. May the new year bring you good health, contentment and prosperity. Until next week I leave you with a photograph that shows the quirky side of Nepal.
Bet you didn’t know Walmart had expanded into the trekking equipment business in Nepal.
One thing Mahabir Pun has in his life is a tremendous amount of support from family, friends, admirers, volunteers, non-profits and institutions. He even has support from the chaotic Nepal government since receiving the Magsaysay Award in 2007 for Community Leadership. He can call the Prime Minister’s office and be granted a meeting the same day. Although the government has yet to financially support his latest request for an Innovation Center (think tank) they do meet with him to discuss his ideas.
A volunteer receives a traditional necklace of flowers when leaving Nangi village after volunteering and teaching in the school.
The kick off for support started in 1993 after Mahabir returned from Nebraska to Nepal with his undergraduate degree in Education. Dr. Leonard Skov, then Dean of Education at UNK, raised money for Himanchal Higher Education School in Nangi through the university’s foundation for several years. Legal complications caused Dr. Skov to shift the fundraising through the Kearney Public School fund, but again this was fraught with legal technicalities. During these years the money raised amounted to a few thousand a year. The Nangi school, was growing and Mahabir needed more money to pay teachers in the higher level classes because these were not supported by the Nepalese government.
In 2000 Mahabir asked Dr. Skov to create a non-governmental organization (NGO) specifically for the school and fund-raising projects. Named after the school in Nangi, Himanchal Education Foundation (HEF), a non-profit organization, was born and continues to be the major networking link for the original group of supporters in Kearney and the volunteers worldwide. Since the birth of social media Mahabir now uses his Facebook page to communicate with his supporters. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mahabir-Pun/43662749774
Have you been a volunteer for HEF or worked with Mahabir Pun? Share your experience with my readers by leaving a comment. Wishing you a peaceful and healthy gregorian new year. Please join me next week for stories about the volunteers.
Continuing in the same manner as the Pokhara, Nangi and Mohare Dande wireless setup the group walked their way across the Myagdi District. A strange sight they were in those early wireless days when the Internet was just reaching Nepali cities such as the capitol Kathmandu. Can you image the sight as the team and porters carried the equipment up and down the mountains through villages which rarely saw foreigners much less those burdened with huge antenna and space-age looking satellite dishes?
Team on way back to Nangi. James, JoAnn, Sage, Robin, Mahabir (standing). All photographs courtesy of Dr. Robin Shields.
The team moved on to Sikha, a small village with a school on the Annapurna Circuit. They set up an antennae with a radio and cable connected to a computer. This setup was aimed at another high mountaintop ridge called Kopra. Kopra would act as another relay station and was already gaining popularity as a trekking destination. From Kopra‘s ridge you can gaze at Annapurna South and over to Mohare Dande. The same setup was then placed in Pauwdar, a cheese making village close to the Annapurna Circuit. Their school had a few more computers which were connected to the wireless system.
View to Khopra through antenna at Mohare Dande.
The team then made the high trek to Kopra to test the Sikha and Pauwdar connections. Using Kopra as the relay station the equipment at Mohare Dande was able to “see” these villages and provide Internet access from the Pokhara server. One more village was included in the system. Tikot, an especially remote village, which at that time did not have a road or access to any of the trekking routes. I have visited Tikot and found it to be a phenomenal village. I was impressed by the village elders who considered carefully their decisions and how it affected the the whole community. This village had one computer which was added to the system via the Kopra relay.
Finished, the team headed back to Nangi and then Pokhara. They had no trouble from the Maoists who were roaming the area searching for volunteers. Mahabir told me those Maoists were teenagers who didn’t recognized the wireless equipment or have any understanding of it’s potential function. Mahabir had long ago made it clear to the Maoists he had no political agenda…so he posed no treat and was left to come and go without threats. The team faced challenges and one member left the trek due to illness. Another suffered a leg laceration…when getting out of a taxi and falling in a large pot hole in Pokhara. Fortunately I was available to clean and suture the wound at Mahabir’s home in Pokhara. Funny to watch these young men from the team one by one turn green and leave the room during the procedure…after they had braved landslides, Maoists, juga and weeks of arduous trekking in remote areas.
Would you volunteer for a project such as this? Have you been involved in dangerous projects? Share your story with my readers and join me next week as we begin a new chapter in the life of Mahabir Pun.
Mark and Mahabir at Relay Station 1.
After setting up the system in Nangi the group hiked up the mountains to Mohare Danda, about a half days hike. Back in 2003 this area had only a few rough huts and one lone man from Nangi who manned the relay station. The team needed to carry all their food and water because the water source was several hundred feet below the camp. I have been to Mohare Danda and the hike is beautiful. Down one side you can see the Kali Gandaki Gorge and down the other side the Annapurna Mountains. Now it is part of the Community Eco Trek with a comfortable lodge, running water and meals to satisfy the hungriest of trekkers.
Hut at Mohare Danda, Relay Station1, Nepal.
Spending only three days and two nights the team installed two addition antennas. There was already one antenna in position and pointing to the next ridge called Kopra. On the cliff side towards Nangi they installed an antenna to pick up the Nangi signal and at the campsite they installed a third antenna to pick up the Pokhara signal. This was done by a man named Purkajet. He simply climbed high into the trees and strapped the
Antennae being installed at Relay Station 1, Mohare Danda, Nepal.
antennas into place using wire and rope. The rest of the team had their doubts and concerns that the system wasn’t secure. The equipment could have easily been broken by wind and snow. It wasn’t sealed against moisture…but it worked. The whole darn system worked. Mahabir knew exactly where to aim the signals and he trusted his time honored methods. I’ve seen construction in Nepal…and at times it reminds me of my father-in-law patching the bathroom tiles with duct tape. But in a resource poor country you learn to be resourceful…and you get very good at salvaging and thinking outside the box.
“Juga”, a common leech found in Nepal mountains. (All photos courtesy of Dr. Robin Shields)
One hazard of trekking or working in the mountains during monsoon season are “jugas”, known in English as leeches. They team became well acquainted with these nasty critters. I heard about them…these tiny leeches. I thought how bad can it be if you just stay out of the local streams and ponds? How bad can it be…these critters are the prehistoric vampires of the insect world. They don’t live in water like any decent, ecologically abiding leech. They hover on the side of trails and in trees. Using heat sensors they zero in on a warm body and without a sound they inch their way up your boot or soundlessly drop from a tree and latch on…sucking your blood. It isn’t until your boots are squishy with blood or you feel something warm running down your back that you take notice.
Have you ever improvised supplies during a big project. Share your story with my readers and join me next week for the final account of the first wireless system installation.