Chapter 10 – Plethora of Projects

In October 2012 Mahabir Pun and I sat on the balcony at his home in Pokhara as his daughter Jharana and her cousins sat in the stairway watching us. It was day two of the book interview and we were both weary, but Mahabir reflected thoughtfully before he answered my question, “what is an Innovation Center?”

Women in two Myagdi villages make paper beads and fashion into jewelry which they sell to the tourists. This is one example of a small village enterprise which promotes independence and confidence.

I had read the proposal he wrote and gave to the government and shared with his supporters, including myself, a few months before. But I wanted to hear it again after the idea had circulated and he had not only spoken with the Nepal government but had spoken around the world at various venues. Like everything on Mahabir’s list of projects it started with an idea and developed along the way. In a nutshell, Mahabir Pun is trying to scale up what he accomplished in Nangi into a national platform with the National Innovation Center concept.

In Nangi he revolutionized the concept of education for students and parents from merely learning academics to understanding their capacity to change their lives because with knowledge came choices. With choices comes the ability to make significant changes in not only their lives but that of others in their community. He also stepped away from the hand out and donation concept of community development and helped villages build profitable businesses which they run and market either individually or as a community.

The National Innovation Center will be a physical space where Nepalese can bring their ideas for development. It will be a think tank. It will support talented Nepalese from all social strata and educational backgrounds to bring forward their ideas for progressive development in all areas of need such as education and infrastructure. It will generate jobs as ideas are developed and implemented.

Villages along the Community Trek Trail built and maintain the lodges. They provide jobs and income to the community.

But Mahabir is not looking for donors or NGO funding. He is seeking a soft loan of $6 million USD to build a 10 MW hydropower plant in Nepal. The much needed electricity will be sold on the grid and the profits used to run the center, pay back the loan and support the entrepeneurs. He originally went to his government but they did not have the resources so he sought their support as he approached other agencies such as the World Bank or wealthy private individuals such as the Warren Buffets of the world.

Join me next week and find out how The National Innovation Center is progressing and if the Nepal government has lived up to their promises to help Mahabir Pun realize this far reaching social experiment.

Chapter 9 – Marriage and Family

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.


Chapter 9 – Marriage and Family (cont.)

I met Ommaya and Juna in 2002 the first time I went to Pokhara and stayed with Mahabir Pun and his family. Juna was four years old and spoke English well. She was curious but also shy and even at that young age she studied long hours after school. She takes after her mother, especially in temperament. Ommaya was shy and did not speak English well. My Nepali was far worse then her English so communication was laborious. But during that visit and future visits I was able to witness the family’s interaction. They were surprisingly traditional. I guess I expected Mahabir’s wife to be non-traditional. I thought she would be someone who had an advanced education and worked outside the home. But he is a very traditional Nepali man with respect to family life.

Mahabir and Ommaya Pun with their daughters, Jharana and Juna in 2005.

Ommaya is a homemaker and mother. The birth of their second daughter occurred February 19, 2005. Jharana Pun is the spitting image of her father in looks and temperament. She is fluent in English and her native language. She is also a thinker. She and I spent several days together in the fall of 2012. Looking over my shoulder she would correct my English grammar and spelling as I typed emails and articles. Even worse, she mercilessly corrected my Nepali…and she made no secret of her dissatisfaction with my language skills.

Both daughters are educated in private schools in Pokhara. They are better educated and more worldly then their Nangi counterparts. I asked Mahabir why he doesn’t live in Nangi with his family because he advocates for rural living and education. His explanation is best shared in his own words. “The only reason I put them in Pokhara is because I don’t have my own house anywhere where they can stay. As you know I stayed with my cousin in Nangi for many years. My mother is staying with my sisters and brother’s wife in Chitwan. In this way I thought that Pokhara is the better place for my family to stay so that I can get to meet them more frequently. I could not have met them so frequently if I had put them in Nangi or Chitwan.”  

Join me next week and read how Ommaya manages the long separations from Mahabir due to his travels and how this traditional, yet modern family function as a unit despite the distance.