Nepali teacher wins ‘Asian Nobel Prize’

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A Nepali teacher has been honoured with a prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, regarded as the Asian Nobel Prize, in recognition of his innovative application of wireless computer technology in Nepal.

Mahabir Pun, 52, from the remote village of Nangi in Nepal, will receive the 2007 Award for Community Leadership and a US$50,000 prize along with six other awardees in Manila, Philippines this month (31 August).

Pun started the project — The Nepal Wireless Networking Project — to meet the communication needs of his village, seven hours climb to the nearest road and without a telephone connection.

“I believe that better communication systems are important for the overall development of a community and a nation,” Pun told SciDev.Net.

Under the project, villagers and a team of international volunteers initially powered several computers with small hydro-generators in a nearby stream.

They then linked them wirelessly to the Internet with a series of television dish antennas and mountaintop relay stations, using the nearest telephone connection in the town of Pokhara, a two-day trip away.

Pun said the project has so far provided 14 rural villages with access to services like telemedicine, distance learning, e-marketing of local products and telephone services.

“I strongly believe that all the people in the world have right to use and benefit from this technology. This has been a basic need in developed countries. Therefore one of my goals is to work hard to close the digital divide as much as I can,” said Pun. 

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation writes that his innovation has brought progress “by connecting his village to the global village”.

Sandy Dela Cruz, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation communications programme officer told SciDev.Net that Pun’s dedication, innovative leadership and motivation in connecting the mountain villages of Nepal to each other and the outside world is magnificent.

“He is an inspiration to young people in Asia because of his courageous and ambitious goal for Nepal,” Dela Cruz said.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award celebrates outstanding individuals and organisations working in Asia for the people of Asia.