Dr. Mahabir Pun


        The life story of Dr. Mahabir Pun is truly one of the most remarkable stories of our times. This slightly abridged, yet nonetheless gripping, version of his life journey was originally published by Dr. Pun on the HEF website, Himanchal Education Foundation, and is reprinted here with permission. You can find a link to HEF at the bottom of this page. In 2007, Dr. Pun was awarded the Magsaysay Award—considered by many to be the Nobel Prize of Asia. That year he also received an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters  from the University of Nebraska and in 2014 was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.  Now in Dr. Pun’s own words:  

My early school days


Photo courtesy HEF—not of Dr. Pun.


IT would be a long story if I write about my early school days. Therefore I would like to make it very brief. I went to the school in my village from grades one through seven. We didn’t have any paper, pencils to write with, or textbooks to read. Each of the students had a wooden board blackened with charcoal, and a soft marble stone from a nearby cliff to write with. Our teachers were the retired soldiers of the Second World War who had never been to schools themselves. I got pencils and paper to write with for the first time when I was in the seventh grade, and text books in the eighth grade. . . . [A] soldier had brought a box-like thing called a “radio” that talked and sang. One day when nobody was around, I sneaked into his room and looked into the talking and singing box to see the “people inside”.

My father: a man with a great vision


Photograph courtesy Susan Stark

     I don’t know why my father was so serious about sending me to school at a time when people in my village and other villages around had almost no concern for the education of their children. My father was a retired soldier of the British Army, and could read and write only Romanized Nepali. I remember that he knew only simple arithmetic: adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing (because he taught me).

     I now consider him as a man with great vision. His vision had created so much trouble for me (I thought so) in those early years of my life. Let me tell in one sentence what he did for me. He suffered himself and made the family suffer so much for sending me to school in the years that followed.

     My childhood, along with all the enjoyments of grazing sheep and cattle (with my grandfather), playing with friends and running up and down the slopes had ended when my father took me down to a middle school one day on foot. That was the beginning of my journey to the future that had taught me how to survive in the most unfavorable situations of life. The journey hasn’t ended yet.

     We migrated from the village to the southern plain of Nepal for my schooling. By the time I finished my high school, my father had finished all his savings and sold all the things he had except for a small piece of land for the family. He had encouraged me to continue my school but I decided not to continue because I knew the economic condition of my family.

     I started working as a teacher in a school. I taught about 12 years in four schools helping my brothers and sisters go to school. In 1989, I was able to [go] to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, U.S.A. to the surprise of the people in my village and my friends. You can say the opportunity was God’s plan, or a miracle, or a chance, or whatever.

     It was at the University I thought about going back on a mission to help my mountain villagers of whom I had retained vague mental pictures. To tell in a sentence how I got the vision to go for this mission, I say that my dream a long time ago to go to a university was shattered due to financial restraints, and this created another dream to provide educational opportunities for the rural children so that they should not have to go through all the pain and struggle I went through. I have a first hand experience of how much it hurts to go through that kind of pain.

My mission back home


Photograph courtesy HEF: Himanchal Education Foundation

     After I graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1992, I went back to my village in the mountains. That was twenty-four years after we migrated from the village. Nobody recognized me in the village by face, nor did they know about my mission. I introduced myself to my relatives and villagers. It was before I arrived they had decided to start a high school in the village.

     For a couple of months the villagers thought I was having a vacation because I didn’t say anything. I was trying to find ways I could help them. When I told them I would help them to teach in the school they couldn’t believe it. However, my activities that followed finally made them believe I was serious. . . .  


Photographs here and below courtesy Nepal Wireless


I BELIEVE that no rural development programs and nature conservation activities will be able to reach their goals if we approach them from the urban areas, or the people from the cities try to do it for humanitarian reasons. The mountain environment and villages belong to the villagers who constitute over 80% of Nepal’s population. Therefore, the efforts for solving their problems should be tried by themselves from the very area. Most of the programs that have been started in the urban areas will not help much for the people living in the mountains.

     The only thing outsiders can do is help them from behind the scene, encouraging the villagers to move forward and holding them from “falling”. Helps to move them forward and support to hold them from falling are what they need most. If these kinds of helping hands are available for a certain period of time, any rural areas will be able to help themselves.


Photograph courtesy FutureAtlas.

     My role in the future will be that of an outsider. I went to my village not to be a leader but to work as a volunteer. Even in the coming years I have no intention to lead them. . . .

     Many people have spent so much money and taken so much risk to perform many stunts just to attract others’ attention. I feel that all the activities which I and villagers are trying to do in the remote village is far more than just a stunt in the history of community development, and we are actors on an important stage, far more than just stunt men. You can also take a part in our development by supporting this project or getting involved in several ways. It will be worthwhile. 

[ Note from InterestEng.: To learn more about HEF, please go to the Himanchal Educational Foundation website.]

 ©InterestEng. July 2013  §  The stories in the magazine portion of the site are written by English language learners. Stories are corrected by a native English speaker.  § Photos are staff or used with permission.  §  To contact us:  go.gently.on@gmail.com