Solsing Village Diaries

by Chehen Lama

Chehen Lama is the first person to put internet at the top of Mount Everest. A self confessed ‘tech geek’ Chehen started work as a construction contractor when he was still a teenager. He now has over a decade of Information Technology experience and has founded 7 companies including Everest Link, Hello World’s IP partner in Nepal.

“This is Solsing village!” Mingmar, my friend and local villager declared.  I checked my watch, it was 6 hours and 25 minutes straight drive from the capital city Kathmandu not counting the 20 minutes we spent replacing the flat tire. We had passed through dusty trails, snaked through steep hills with our 4×4 vehicle grunting and made through impossible sharp bends where our vehicle had to reverse 2 to 3 times to navigate around it. Narrow passes over vertical drops reaching more than 100 meters was heart wrenching!  This road could easily have qualified for some notorious superlative title at adventure TV shows but Mingmar, our driver (who had same name as my friend Mingmar) was least bothered about it! I found out it was the same for everyone else in the village. We were told we were lucky that the roads are ‘very good” at this time of the year!

“Not an easy task to live your dream!” I was thinking.

The dream of community-led innovation

Let me briefly explain about the “dream”. Fifteen plus years in the ICT sector and about a decade spent trying to hold the title of “Serial Entrepreneur” I thought I had enough experience to do something to ‘’change people’s life for good in the most rural communities”.  I don’t yet have accurate explanation to what that means so don’t ask me! But that got me going and I felt motivated. I figured out giving free access to information and basic communication was the easy way to change people’s lives in the rural communities. What would happen if the vast practical knowledge stored in the Internet could be transferred to remote communities to solve their everyday problems? In 2018, I met Katrin, Founder and CEO of Helloworld in Kathmandu. She had this brilliant vision of taking digital education to the most marginalized communities and integrate online learning. The approach was to build learning centers (helloworld hubs) complete with Internet, solar power and tablets. Things progressed rapidly and within few months I was on my way to build the 8th hub in Nepal at Solsing village.

Madan’s career goal, and the Hello World Hub

It is the second day of the helloworld hub build. Suresh our engineer is busy in teaching group of youngsters how to assemble the circuit board for the solar powers. I notice a young boy around age 17 genuinely interested and helping out Suresh. Madan Tamang, as he reveals his name, is a grade 6 dropout.  He didn’t want to really reveal his academic achievement and felt embarrassed when he finally spoke about it. “I want to be a driver, “ he said shyly. “The village school only runs till grade seven. For further grades, I have to go to the other school which is 3 hours walk and my family didn’t have enough money so they wanted for me to work”

“What does it take to be a driver Madan?”

“I will have to work as an assistant to a driver for 2-3 years just to gain his favor so that he will teach me how to drive and fix things on the vehicle”

I explained how he could use the Helloworld hubs to go to Internet; use YouTube where he could watch all sorts of videos about changing flat tires to fixing small engine problems. “Can I really do that?” he asked unbelievably!

 “I can be a driver in no time then!” he exclaimed.

Sometimes, we forget small things can change the world. Madan made me realize the immense potential of the learning center. Now I am more determined than ever!

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