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Tilak Pun Departs to Bring Solar Power to Nepalese Village

July 11, 2011

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The Knowledge Mosaic community is gathering this afternoon to celebrate programmer Tilak Pun, who departs tomorrow for a two-month visit to his native Nepal. The journey itself is an undertaking: after flying around the world, Tilak must still walk for two days from Pokhara to his hometown of Swanta, following the famed trekking route of the Annapurna Circuit. Given the logistical challenges of going home, it’s perhaps not surprising that Tilak has not seen his parents since 2007.

Tilak describes his upbringing as offering meager options. “You could be a farmer, or you could be a Gurkha,” he tells us. So Tilak went for the latter, entering the Gurkha selection process as soon as he met the physical requirements. After enduring a grueling recruitment program—he describes sprinting up the mountainside carrying 75 pounds of rocks on his back—he was accepted, one of the few hundred selected out of a pool of up to 30,000 applicants.

He was sent to Singapore to serve in the Gurkha Contingent where he studied independently to complete high school. “Being able to go to Singapore from the village was a transformative experience,” Tilak says. “I consider myself lucky.” His peers who were not selected remained in their villages; those who went to school attended Shikha Higher Secondary School in Shikha, a village an hour away.

After serving for eight years in the military, he came to the U.S. to continue his education. “I’m probably the first of that school, of the alumni, to get a college degree,” says Tilak. He is now enrolled in a graduate program at Seattle University.

But his passion has always been to aid and empower the youth of Shikha School. “The dream that I have is [to provide] things I wish I’d had growing up,” he says.

Tilak leaves tomorrow to fulfill that dream. With the help of Chief Technology Officer Clif Swiggett and the entire Swiggett family, he will install a series of solar panels that will provide a reliable power source for the computer classroom at Shikha School. Tilak’s hope is that by opening these channels of communication and information, he will also be providing “access to the wealth of knowledge and educational resources available on the internet [that] will enable them to dream big and realize new possibilities.”

Quality education in Tilak’s community is limited by the availability of skilled and qualified teachers, along with unwieldy bureaucratic restrictions that prevent children who are struggling from being able to continue attending school. But Tilak says there are also psychological impediments: students lack the confidence and self-esteem to thrive. “Rich kids go to boarding school,” he says, “but [everyone else has] this mentality that they can’t do anything with the education they’re receiving. That’s what I wanted to change.”

Perhaps even more significantly, students lack a sense of purpose: “The place is remote; they can’t see the value of learning.” Tilak hopes that exposure to the outside world will let students make connections between their education and their aspirations.

Tilak also believes that this advance in technology will broaden the scope of what those aspirations might be. And he hopes to establish permanent channels between Shikha and those who have left it: project ideas include paying students to blog—in English—about the goings-on of the village for interested expats. It would motivate students to excel in their studies; it would also serve to bring expats like Tilak a little closer to home.

“You leave the village,” he says, “but the village never leaves you.”

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Keep track of Tilak’s project by visiting the Solar for Shikha Facebook page; or search “Nepal” here on Blogmosaic.

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