Lat/Long: 27° 43′ 19″ N / 85° 21′ 33″ E
Weather Conditions: 68F (20C) Cloudy
The Earthducation team is traveling in Nepal, capturing education and sustainability narratives from a broad array of individuals in urban centers and small villages alike. This full update details our final days in Nepal, from May 4 through May 6. We spent these days in two of the biggest urban areas of this small country: Pokhara and Kathmandu.
Day 6: May 4
On Sunday morning we headed out early on a 30-minute taxi ride to the Mountain View Eco Farm (MVEF) on the outskirts of Pokhara. Director and founder Mr. Bedraj Paudel, whose nickname is Govinda, met us at the road and we trekked up the mountainside to his farm. It was situated beautifully, with a view overlooking downtown Pokhara, Lake Begnas, and the Annapurna Mountain Range. Unfortunately, however, with it being the start to monsoon season, banks of cloud covered the sky and so we were not able to see the tall peaks of the Annapurnas. Next time!
Govinda’s mission with MVEF is to maintain a farm close to the city as an education and training center committed to organic farming as a route to sustainability and healthy food production. He spent several hours with us showcasing the more than 30 species of plants he is growing. We were amazed at the variety: bananas, cabbage, onions, corn, chili peppers, carrots — the list goes on! Govinda explained how farms near big cities in Nepal are using more and more chemical pesticides and, in addition, often do not use organic seed. Although his own crops, which are grown organically, don’t necessarily bring more money at market, they are purchased more frequently because of their healthy look and size. He went on to share some of his expertise in organic farming, describing how certain species planted next to each other help fend off bugs and diseases from the plants around them. He also noted that manure from his cow and chickens is used to fertilize the gardens, with the chickens also providing eggs for human consumption.
A fascinating additional use of the cow dung is that it feeds a biogas system in which the dung is mixed into slurry with water and human waste. This slurry is pumped into a holding area under the ground, from which it generates a gas that is piped into the home, providing gas to cook by. This biogas system is a prime example of Govinda’s desire to create a sustainable lifestyle. Most homes in Nepal use wood fuel for cooking, which, in addition to contributing to health issues from the smoke generated, is not a sustainable source of fuel without proactive measures to replenish the trees being consumed in the process.
During our time with Govinda, he described the vital importance of education in his life and how his education has afforded him the knowledge of his profession. He attended college in Pokhara and also worked with NGOs, from which he learned many of his sustainable farming practices.
We were also able to speak with Govinda’s mother, Ms. Sharada Paudel. She shared that her favorite thing about living in the Pokhara region is the connection with nature. She described how proud she is of Govinda and what he has established, as it provides a model for how people can stay and work in the region where they are raised to provide for their family, rather than moving, for example, to another country to earn an income, which is a common practice for young men in Nepal, in particular. At the end of our interview with Sharada, she sang three impromptu poems about the environment. It was unexpected and beautiful. A big thank you to Govinda and Sharada.
On the way back to Pokhara, we wanted to capture the connection between the environment, tourism, and Pokhara, given that Pokhara is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal. We visited a local guide service, Essence Tours and Travels, where Mr. Ram Chandra Adhikari shared with us how caring for the environment is an important consideration for the guide and trekking industry, as the industry’s sustainability is completely dependent on there being a healthy, pristine natural world to draw tourists to want to spend time there.
Ram noted that education has meant everything to him, allowing him, for example, to be able to interact with tourists from around the world using multiple languages, and providing the means to secure a dependable livelihood. He also noted that climate change is impacting his guides and trekkers alike, making access to some remote areas less reliable, including Lukla, the jumping-off point for Everest Basecamp (and home to the most dangerous airport in the world!). Furthermore, government-sponsored projects to put access roads into once-pristine wilderness areas are making those treks less scenic, and thus, less desirable to tourists.
Day 7: May 5
Today we made our way back to Kathmandu. We were fortunate to get out of Pokhara as many flights were being cancelled due to bad weather. One has to appreciate the simplicity of airports like those we experienced in Nepal. You disembark from the plane onto the tarmac and then wait briefly outside while your luggage is brought to you in a tractor-pulled wagon.
From the airport, we made a quick stop at our hotel before continuing on to our first interview, with Dr. Mahabir Pun. What an inspiration he is! Mahabir has dedicated his life to social change and entrepreneurship, accomplishing things everyone around him said were not possible. He brought the Internet and wireless technology to remote villages throughout Nepal, enhancing quality of life through communication access, educational enhancements, and job training and opportunities.
Mahabir grew up in Nangi and received his education within the village without textbooks or pencils — with a focus on traditional knowledge. His father decided to move the family south so Mahabir could receive a more formal education. After six days of walking, they arrived at the village that would serve as their new home. Mahabir finished his schooling there and went on to work as a teacher for some years before earning a scholarship to the University of Nebraska at Kearney in the USA. Mahabir noted of Kearney, “It was a lot like Nangi and that’s why I liked it. It was very quiet.”
After earning his master’s degree in Nebraska, Mahabir moved back to Nepal with a desire to bring technology and improved educational and work opportunities to Nangi and other remote villages. He started building computers with spare parts donated from around the world, and began brainstorming ways he might connect those computers to the Internet. After years of experimentation, he succeeded in this effort by converting a household D-link router into a line-of-sight wireless connection with a homemade satellite dish! As you can imagine, the desire to have this type of access spread like wildfire through surrounding villages, and Mahabir has to date built a network connecting 175 villages to free wireless Internet services through his Nepal Wireless Networking Project. For this pioneering work bringing Internet to rural schools and communities, promoting digital literacy, and helping improve the quality of education, he was just this year inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in Hong Kong.
We sat down with Mahabir in his own restaurant, Mahabir Restaurant, that he opened to help fund the Himanchal Higher Secondary School and Nepal Wireless Networking Project. He shared his story and his vision for the future with us. His vision is multifaceted and includes: (1) a focus on establishing a community-based eco-tourism program to keep tourism income in the villages, and (2) a focus on establishing an innovation center for the economic development of Nepal using its human resources. Mahabir also described his desire to advance hydropower in Nepal to assist in supporting villages and villagers. With Nepal being second only to Brazil in hydropower, he outlined a vision that would allow plants to sell electricity back to the electric company, providing funds to support people throughout rural Nepal.
Remember the projects that Chitra shared with us earlier, during our visit to Nangi? These projects were put into action by Mahabir to help make Nangi a sustainable community. From jam making to yak breeding to paper making and more, the projects offer realistic models of sustainability for small villages throughout Nepal and beyond.
Many thanks to Mahabir for his invitation to visit Nangi, as well as to all the community members who took time out of their busy days to sit down with the Earthducation team and share their stories. If anyone reading this update is inspired and looking for a place to volunteer and share their know-how, we recommend checking out opportunities with the Himanchal Education Foundation.
After our meeting with Mahabir, we were off to have dinner with a University of Minnesota (UMN) alum, Mr. Bimal Chapagain. Bimal was kind enough to pick us up at the hotel and drive us to his home on the outskirts of Kathmandu. What a beautiful home! We spent the evening with him and his family, sharing stories. We had the opportunity to learn more about Bimal, who graduated from UMN with degrees in journalism and public health. Following graduation, he returned to Nepal to focus on social and public health issues. He has run numerous health-related (sanitation, contraception) projects around the world. From Afghanistan to the South Sudan, he has transformed the health and lives of many people by bringing health services to these regions.
While at the Chapagain home, we also skyped with Mr. Chris Ripken and his students at Centennial High School in Circle Pines, Minnesota. Chris has been using the Earthducation project to assist his students in learning about culture and geography around the world. His students asked us many questions about Nepal. We were fortunate to have Bimal to assist in answering those questions from the perspective of someone who grew up in Nepal, has lived around the world, was educated in Nepal and Minnesota, and has had global impact. Sincere thanks to Bimal and his family as well as to Chris and his students for a truly wonderful evening.
Day 7: May 5
Another early morning rise today, but with a special treat in store — the opportunity to view Everest and the high Himalayas from the air! As we took to the skies and rose above the clouds, a panorama of mighty mountains ranging from Everest (29,029 ft) to Pumori (23,494 ft) to Nuptse (25,771 ft) appeared, leaving us speechless and in absolute awe. As there was not time during this expedition to visit these mountains on foot, we were so thankful to have this chance to see them from the air and to better understand the powerful draw they have on people around the globe. We also took a moment to reflect on the recent tragic events on Everest, admiring the strength and bravery of both the Sherpas and the adventurers who have climbed to the roof of the world.
Once back on the ground, we taxied to our next interview, with Mr. Batu Krishna Uprety, Expert Member of the Climate Change Council and former Joint Secretary of Ministry of the Environment. He shared his perspectives on environmental issues in Nepal and sustainability. He commented that sustainability for Nepal is heavily based on sustaining its natural resources. He also spoke about policies that were created during his tenure with the government geared at protecting the natural environment throughout Nepal.
After lunch we met with Anjali Sherpa, an environmental consultant in Kathmandu who kindly served as our guide and translator for the afternoon. She shared her experiences growing up in Kathmandu, describing what it was like to walk the streets as a child with no cars and few bikes — a far cry from the mass chaos of vehicles that fill the roads today. Anjali explained the population of Kathmandu has exploded from 300,000 in the 1960s to over 5 million today — a 1566% increase! She worries about Kathmandu’s future and hopes the government takes heightened action on vital issues such as sanitation, population growth, and food security.
Anjali also took us to the Upakar Saving and Credit Co-operative Society (UPAKAR SACCOS) where we met Krisha Ghaju, Chairman of the Co-operative; Kancha Ghaju, Vice-Chairman; and Yogendra Duwal, member of the Account Supervisory Committee. The mission of the cooperative is to help farmers buy land, fertilizer, and seeds, and provide training on new farming technologies and techniques, encouraging reduced pesticide use and more organic farming methods. We were given a tour of plots of land where many cooperative members farm, growing vegetables and other crops that are sold within the city of Kathmandu. The cooperative has grown from just 26 members to over 3,000 today. However, with the rapid growth of Kathmandu, there is worry that these plots will soon disappear, giving way to new buildings and city infrastructure that today literally stretches right to the border of the fields.
On our walk back to our taxi, we stopped to speak with a seamstress who owns one the many shops that bordered the road we were on. These shops sell items ranging from vegetables to electronics to shoes. She told us she sews many of the uniforms and handbags for local schoolchildren. Her love of life was her job and sewing, and her biggest regret was that she didn’t receive a formal education.
As we reflect back on our time in Nepal, we so appreciate all that the people we’ve met here have shared about the culture, the geography, and their perspectives on education and sustainability. One of the least developed countries in the world with one of the highest poverty rates, Nepal is transforming itself from the ground up. The most impressive transformations are springing from small, community-based initiatives, which we observed everywhere we went, from the urban centers of Kathmandu and Pokhara to remote villages like Nangi. We witnessed a host of innovative, inspirational sustainability projects, and found even in areas of great poverty there was an optimistic outlook for the future of Nepal.
Several common themes that appear in the interviews we conducted include:
- A desire to provide enhanced education and employment opportunities for rural communities especially, so villagers do not need to leave their homes to earn a decent living.
- A focus on sustainable farming and providing opportunities for people to grow their own food.
- A concern for the environment and the impact that climate change is having on freshwater access, mountain glaciers, farming, and tourism.
We encountered incredibly kind and welcoming people in Nepal. No matter if we were walking down the streets of Kathmandu or trekking around the village in Nangi, “Namaste” and a smile was always to be found. We cannot thank the communities of Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Nangi enough for their warm welcome and hospitality. Until we return again, “dhan’yavāda!”
Expedition 6 Fun Facts
- Communities and Cities Visited: 12
- Interviews Captured: 25+
- Terabytes of Media Captured: 1.1 TB
- Videos Captured: 1023 Clips (12 hours, 41 minutes)
- Means of Transportation: Plane, Car, Foot, Bike
- Total Flights Taken: 10
- Friends Made: 27.5 million (population of Nepal)
- Number of times Charlie complained on the mountain road to Nangi: 862 (maybe more)
- Number of times Aaron said “beautiful”: 1,000+
- Number of times Matthew smiled: 10,000+
- Number of Nepali sets and momos eaten: 33
- Total Miles Driven: 400+
- Photos Taken: 2,784
Please share your perspective on the EnviroNetwork! Our goal is for people around the world to share their ideas on how education and sustainability intersect. For example, what do you believe is the importance of education and how does education, be it from a formal school or your parents and elders, impact your ability to sustain your way of life? We would like EVERYONE to participate. No matter if you are 13 or 90 years old, we want to see you on the network!