The Rallapalli Foundation continued to fund projects and work with Mahabir Pun, in the Nangi area. In 2004 a fish pond was created to provide a source of protein and income. The same year they funded the remodel of an older building into a science lab and provided the equipment. During these years the Rallapalli’s developed a deep respect for Mahabir Pun’s work ethic. They completely trusted him with the funds and his choice of projects, although they regularly required project reports and financial accountability.
Harvesting fish from the Nangi ponds. The fish are divided among villagers and the extra sold.
One final project is still a dream. In 2005 Mahabir attempted to start a hydro project in the Nangi area that would generate enough electricity to support the school and earn income by selling excess electricity on the grid. A feasibility study was done by a Nepali engineer but the Rallapalli’s thought there were too many potential problems and unanswered questions concerning actual construction. They decided to commit partial funding of $20,000 USD. Mahabir and the village would have to either borrow or raise the equivalent. Actions, such as challenging a community to invest in a project, does test merit and committment. The money is still available but Mahabir has not pursued building the hydro plant, although it is still on his dream list…
Mahabir’s dream for a hydro electric plant has grown to a larger scale. in the last two years he has made a proposal to the Nepali government to build a hyrdo power plant in the Kathmandu Valley and use the gains to fund public projects, specifically an Innovation Center. More about the Innovation Center in future posts, but for now Nangi has benefited from smaller solar electric projects using battery backups which provide a steady source of electricity for students in the school and a single 25 watt light bulb in their huts.
Join me next week for more about Mahabir Pun’s many projects and a look into his strategy.
In the spring of 2002 the Rallapalli’s met Mahabir Pun in New Delhi, India to discuss funding for the 11th and 12th grade school building. They offered to fly Mahabir from Nepal to India but he declined due to the cost. Mahabir said the money would be better spent on their projects then his airfare and he could easily take the bus and train. If you have never taken the bus from Nepal to India…it’s an experience to miss…as noted in this video. The tourist buses make for a tolerable ride but the local buses that he took are nothing more then a metal box sitting on a spring-less chaise and wheels…which bounce the occupants with enough energy to shake loose teeth. Philene told me they immediately thought Mahabir a very modest man and the meeting went well.
Students occupy the new 11th and 12th grade building, Nangi, Nepal. Spring 2003.
Mahabir presented a simple drawing of the proposed building. The Rallapalli’s proposed a southern exposure and double paned windows. Despite Mahabir asking a civil engineer friend for advice on the building construction, the Rallapalli’s asked for an architect’s rendition and advice on the project. Philene was also concerned for the height of the building which she found to be too low…until Mahabir exclaimed, “Have you looked at me? I’m a tall man for my village!”. Indeed, people in Nepal are little by world standards…a fact my 6 foot husband can verify every time he whacked his head on a roof beam despite crouching.
Inauguration ceremony for the 11th and 12th grade building, Nangi, Nepal. June 2003.
Fortunately when Mahabir returned to Nepal there was an architect from Alaska teaching English at the school. Mr. Patrick Donaldson took on the project and was instrumental in teaching local laborers better building techniques. He understood the need for simple technology but added reinforcing bar to the base structure and a French drain to solve a water drainage problem. The Rallapalli Foundation committed $12,000 USD and the total cost of the building was about $15,000 USD. It was started in the fall of 2002 and completed in the spring of 2003 with an inauguration on June 30th, 2002.
Seven years after returning to Nangi Mahabir was able to complete one of his dreams…to offer higher education to the students in Nangi without taking them away from their home village and families. This was especially important for the female students who were unable to travel to cities for their education. Young women are financially and socially handicapped. Most could not afford student housing and to assure their safety they needed a male family member to accompany them and protect them from human traffickers.
Join me next week as I finish up the story of Mahabir Pun and the Rallapalli Foundation. Have you ever had someone believe in your dream and help make it come true? Share your story with my readers. Personally, I would not be a doctor it wasn’t for Bill and Betty, my former in-laws, who sent me an encouraging letter every week as I waded through medical school as a single parent in the 1980s.
In chapter eight I wrote about the volunteers who worked with Mahabir Pun. Volunteers are mostly people who have either read about Mahabir and contacted Himanchal Education Foundation, met him serendipitously or were introduced to him by mutual acquaintances. Most of these volunteers are college students or recent graduates who offer their skills and time to work on the wireless projects or teach at the school in Nangi. This chapter will describe in more detail Mahabir Pun’s interface with the many people, companies and organizations he collaborates with on his projects. It’s difficult to categorize some of the people and projects because there is a cross over between volunteers, employees, students, supporters and colleagues. It’s also difficult because Mahabir can be working on several projects with multiple individuals at any one time…because for Mahabir Pun the goal is the end result and how he gets there is irrelevant.
Typical classroom design in Nangi, Nepal. Students sit at bench tables and the teacher stands by the blackboard at the front of the room. 2007
One of the first foundations to contact Mahabir was the small family run Rallapalli Foundation, managed by husband and wife, Kris and Philine Rallapalli. Kris had read the famous BBC article and contacted Mahabir. Mahabir became the foundation’s representative in Nepal. This working foundation required specific conditions and goals be met before funds were released. Philine explained to me during an interview last year that Mahabir would submit a project plan, provide regular updates along with formal progress and financial reports. She told me she had no trouble getting him to comply with these conditions…which I suspect was not easy for him. His strong suit is not planning or reporting much to the frustration of supporters and collaborators.
Krishna Pun is the Computer Science teacher. The classes are the most interactive in the curriculum. 2007
One of the first projects was funding two teachers from Nangi to attend a computer education course in January 2002. The project funding was approximately $700. This modest project was the building block for the computer classes now being offered to Nangi students. Imagine attending a small rural school…in a developing country…in a roadless village where 95% of the residents don’t have running water or telephones…and learning computer science. The results of Mahabir’s efforts are repeated in similar style all over Nepal…he is a man capable of seeing a need and bending forces until the need is filled.
The second project in the spring of 2002 was a proposal for building the 11th and12th grade classrooms. This was a bigger project and the Rallapalli’s wanted to met Mahabir Pun personally before committing their funds. Join me next week to read the story of their first meeting.
Mahabir Pun’s family, like many families that live apart, is feeling the negative impact. Both daughters grew up with his long absences but it has not made it any more digestible. Speaking to Juna in 2012 she told me she “feels lonely” without her father. Like her counterparts around the world she is a busy teenager. She attends school six days a week from sun up to early evening. She studies native dancing and socializes with her friends. But despite living with relatives she prefers the days her father is home. Jharana is more resilient. She is never far from his side when he is home, but she seems to accept his departures in stride. Watching them part one day went like this: Ommaya nodded and watched from the doorway; Juna stayed back in the house; and Jharana clung to his hand until he got in the car, then she ran to be by her mother’s side in the entryway and watched the car pull away. I think she was more disappointed in not going with him then his departure.
Jharana (center) and Juna (right) at the kitchen table in Pokhara. 2007
Juna, the oldest, is reserved so it is hard to gauge her feelings. She doesn’t engage in conversation like her younger sister. Jharana is expressive in her sadness over the parting but she quickly found activities to divert her attention…such as supervising me. Ommaya, is a busy mother and homemaker. Along with raising her daughters, managing her home and tending her garden, she was studying clothing construction. She is surrounded by her extended family and she accepts the departures with grace. It is her way to support her husbands humanitarian and entrepeneurial projects. Ommaya understands his goals go beyond educating the Nepali population and require his constant attendance.
Mahabir Pun does not accept payment for his speaking engagements but he does receive a monthly stipend from Himanchal Education Foundation. By western standards it is very small. By Nepali income standards it is a comfortable sum. He depends on this money and living in his uncle’s home to support his family. This allows his to send his daughters to private schools but you will not find expensive toys or electronics in his home. He does not care about material possessions except to keep his family comfortably clothed and fed. His wife and daughters are proud of Mahabir and they understand he is not only a father to his own children…he is a father to all of Nepal’s children.
During my travels and research for the book I spoke to many people who worked with Mahabir. Join me next week as I begin chapter ten and start to expand on the man and his work ethic.