Prem Kunwar – “If we invest in education it just multiplies.”
I come from a little village called Arnakot Deurali in the western mountains of Nepal, about a three days walk or a 1 day ride from the motor road here in Pokhara. I am a teacher. I’ve been teaching high school for the past 14 years. I have been living in Pokhara for the last 18 years as a village Yogi. I have a worldly life, although very much an ordinary life.
As a village Yogi, you are following your karma and dreams and you are bringing something back to your village. Yogis roam around. They see different places and they see the simplicity of life. They do good karma for communities.
My dream is simple, to live a simple life spending time with communities. To help them empower, education especially, and invest in our culture to make children better citizens for the future, because the future is in their hands. The future has already started. If we invest in education it just multiplies.
I had a difficult childhood. We had no shoes. We had no sandals. All the schools were very far but as kids, we wanted to go to school and finish, become a teacher and bring something to our community. The little things that effected you in your childhood, it changes your life. You want to help the people in the village. We want to make life better for the new generations living in the village. It will be better if we do something to change people’s lives now and they can help change their communities later.
I was 19 when I left my village. I walked four days from Arnakot to Pokhara with two of my friends with dreams of higher education so we can go back to the village as good teachers and serve.
My father is not educated. He loves farming. My mother is not able to read and write. She is illiterate. She loves buffalos.
We were farm kids. My uncle always encouraged us to go to school. He is a headmaster. He was my inspiration. I would hold my uncle’s hand when we saw him. I realized that education is important because my uncle was a teacher. He was a very honorable person. We went to school riding buffalos. We were like village hippies. I really wanted to be a better teacher than him – which I’m not.
I like to read books with sarcasm and satire like George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’. I also liked John Wood, he’s a guy from Microsoft who left his job to help the children of Nepal. He opened a project called Room to Read and started helping children. He is my true inspiration.
I also like poetry. I’m a student of poetry. I like poetry on deep subjects like the salvation of people. I’m a fan of Seamus Heaney and the Irish Revolution. I think poetry is very connected to your heart. There’s a rhythm, there’s a beating, there are rhymes. We in Nepal love music so the language itself is like the music you hear. Say “Namaste” and you’ll here it’s a very poetic language itself.
I always wanted to be a good English teacher. My English teacher in middle school knew a lot of stories. When I came to Pokhara, people would say I spoke Buffalo English. Buffalos also speak English in Lakeside they would say. I went to the university and studied English Literature. I did my master’s in English and American Literature and also Linguistics so I could be a teacher.
I think I achieved my dream by going to school. I teach now and I’m in the position of being able to help other, less fortunate people.
In order to help people you need to be organized so I started doing it on my own. I was helping my village in 2006. We started with the library and a primary health post in the village. It wasn’t organized so I wanted to have a proper organization that we could fund and complete projects properly.
In 2010 I met two wonderful paragliding and hang gliding enthusiasts, Isabella Messenger and Nick Greece from the Cloudbase Foundation based in Seattle. They embody the spirit of giving back to the community. They came here to fly and fell in love with our people and culture so they naturally wanted to give back to Nepal. Together, we decided to found a nonprofit organization in 2011 called Karma Flights with the Cloudbase Foundation as our major sponsor. I am the country director of Cloudbase Foundation where I manage Karma Flights.
Our mission at Karma Flights is to create a sustainable future for underprivileged kids living in the villages of Nepal. We want to help these kids finish school. These kids will grow and one day they’ll go back to their communities and start making a difference on the local level. They’ll be the ambassadors of their own communities.
We have a very small team – three people to manage the whole project, working with experts and volunteers. We try to be self-sufficient in Pokhara by booking adventure tours, treks, rafting, kayaking, paragliding, all these things. We are a social enterprise so 100% of the commission goes towards education and teachers’ salary. All the money that we get from international donations are dedicated to helping our communities provide education for children.
When we started, we had about 10 schools and eight children we sponsored. We went to all the places where people come to fly and established model schools in each village. We have already built many and plan to build more. We believe we can do it. What we do, we learn and we just do it.
After the earthquake in 2015, we realized that we could be more valuable for bigger communities because we were organized already. We had the networks and we knew how to work with the schools. They needed rescue relief and rehabilitation.
We went to Gorkha, the epicenter of the earthquake because everything there was devastated. We stayed in a camp in Gorkha for 56 days and helped the people with whatever we could do. We had over 25 volunteers working every day traveling from Porkhara to bring rice and medical teams.
We realized that there was a need to open temporary schools immediately because most of them were shut down for a very long time leaving the children with no schooling. They were scared and had trauma from the earthquake.
Parents feel safe and hopeful when their children go to school. When kids go to school, their future starts now. Children are the same everywhere. They want to learn. They have curiosities. If they are with friend and teacher, they talk, they share. The trauma is reduced. We help children release their trauma.
By June last year, we rebuilt eleven schools, eleven temporary learning centers, 1,600 temporary shelters, administered 50 lifelong scholarships for earthquake orphans, and created numerous community health posts. We have a presence in Gorkha and many other parts of Western Nepal including 3 schools in Baglung, my home town. We also built 20 schools in the Pokhara region. We have quite a big area to look after.
We are very grateful to our world community for how much hey have helped Nepal. We appeal to all the people in the U.S., Canada, and the world who are reading this to help Nepal. This is the best time to help.
Come to Nepal. Spend your holidays here. This will help boost the economy. Nepal is made for tourism. We are a peace loving country. We hope you will come here to support us.
We believe in equality and democracy. At the beginning, we focused with girls education and now we are supporting both both girls and boys. The focus will always be the girls, underprivileged children, orphans and then boys. Boys are more fortunate because they can just go to Malaysia or Dubai for work, make money, and then come home. The girls in Nepal are very special. They get married at an early age, then they go to their husband’s home. They have to manage the families while their husbands are working. They have to be strong.
I love to play with children. Living with my family brings me the most happiness. I have two children of my own and we adopted eight other children thanks to sponsorships from Keen Shoes and the Cloudbase Foundation. I also love to spend time with my dad who is now in the last stages of his life with cancer. We are good friends now. He spends three days in the hospital and four days at home. My life is complete.
I think I’m a happy person. When I come home, I come with a lot of stress but when I am home it’s gone, everything’s all right. I never find myself unhappy because happiness is inside. We cannot find it anywhere else.
If you want to be happy, share your life, share your joy, share your happiness. Sometimes we say even if you’re not happy, if you have an enemy, tell them your sorrow and your enemy he will be happy.
This is hardest time that we have faced ever. The earthquake last year in April destroyed half of the country and our government is unable to rebuild properly. We struggled for eight years drafting a new constitution because we are going to a federal political system. Before that, there was a 10 year long people’s war that scared away tourism. We have gone through so much turmoil. Now it’s time for Nepal to breathe in peace. It’s time for Nepal to welcome more people. The more people come here, the more money they spend here on hotel and backpacking.
Nepal is for all seasons and all reasons. We have 125 different language communities here and the same amount of aboriginal people. The top places to visit is Pokhara. All of the zones here are safe. You must visit Kathmandu and Mount Everest. Bandipur is a little town where you can relax for a few days. Annapurna Circuit is an excellent trekking area. We are very proud to announce that The Rough Guide from UK has recommended Nepal as number one tourist destination for visiting in 2016. I think they’re right, especially the Mustang region.
Nepal is a diverse country with diverse cultures, languages, religions. We have been living here in religious harmony for centuries. People here are peace loving. Namaste means I respect the divine inside you so visitors are treated very well. People are happy with whatever they have. We have a saying, “Kay Garnay?”, “What can you do?” Karma here is way to salvation.
The best time for trekking is Autumn from September through December or in Spring from March through June. The Red Festival, Dashain, is in mid October. The monsoon season in the summer is a little bit hard but you can go to Mustang and Manag, where it is absolutely stunning and it doesn’t rain. You can even come during the monsoon and spend time in the Annapurna Circuit.
One must visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, once in his or her life. There are many historical and holy sites in Kathmandu. Nepal has been a place for Rishis and yogis for a long, long time. Every river is holy here. The Ganges River originates from the Himalayas here in Nepal.
Prem Bahadur Sunwar was interviewed by Dawn Morningstar & Hung Tran in Pokhara, Nepal.
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Photo credit: Karma Flights. Cosmic Brontosaurus. Arnakot Deurali. The Yoga Blog.