I was intrigued by the candor and span of comments from volunteers when asked about working with Mahabir Pun. I either interviewed volunteers in person, by phone or sent a questionaire. I asked several demographic questions but the four questions I was most interested in the responses were these: Would you go back again and volunteer for Mahabir’s projects? What do you think are Mahabir’s strengths? Weaknesses? If you could give him one piece of advise what would it be? Did the experience with Mahabir shape or change your life?
The answers gave insights into Mahabir character; those subtleties not apparent at the end of a volunteer’s project when attention was on project goals and results. Interestingly the comments crossed over with those from his Nepali colleagues who worked with him on a regular basis, mostly with regard to his character and how he treated people. Overall the comments commended Mahabir Pun and are best summed up by a former volunteer who wrote; “I see Mahabir’s great strengths as vision, persistence, resourcefulness and flexibility. He knows which direction he wants to move, will move that way no matter the obstacles, and will try any number of ways and means to get there.” He is gifted in bringing together people who’s sum is greater then their parts. Frequent comments I received praised him for his ability to flourish in an atmosphere of political unrest, government corruption and resource poverty. Think about it…if you only had electricity for about four hours a day, how much could you accomplish? One common thread I have seen as volunteer coordinator for the last eight years is the sense of accomplishment a volunteer has after working with Mahabir. He is able to nurture their strengths, encourage creative thinking and help them discover a sense of value in helping others reach their potentials.
In contrast when asked about his weaknesses some were reluctant to comment for fear of sounding disrespectful but others were very candid. One comment I heard across all the cultural lines and projects was his inability to listen or respect other peoples ideas and comments. I knew one volunteer group working on an engineering project who had carefully planned the design specifications and supplies only to find on arrival in Nepal that Mahabir had made substitutions and changes without consulting them. They felt the changes undermined the original purpose of their project and made the outcome inferior. This was not an isolated complaint. Some felt he became so focused on the technical aspects of building a wireless network he lost sight of his goal to improve education for rural Nepal.
Over the years HEF, international supporters and his Nepali colleagues have encouraged Mahabir to mentor someone who could take his place if needed. Up to now he has declined. Is this someone who has become a cult personality, lost his humility and thinks no one could fill his shoes. Or is he a man who lives so in the moment, is so driven by personal beliefs and a dutiful work ethic that he wouldn’t ask anyone to take on his burden?
I think the explanation is as complicated as the man; influenced by his culture, education, experiences, successes, failures and dreams. When someone is so driven, their present trajectory is fueled by anything that will bring forward momentum. What do you think? Join me next week for a new chapter about Mahabir Pun’s family life.