Videographer working to fill (and film) the Himalayan Gap
Michael Nyffeler wanted to helphis longtime friend from the Himalayas.
Posted: Thu, Mar 10, 2011
When Michael Nyffeler was a kid growing up near Kearney, he and his family used to host an exchange student from Nepal for the holidays. They would head to the snowy hills near his home and go sledding. They'd eat turkey.
The man had been paired with his mom, a tutor at UNK. He was kind. He'd always bring Nyffeler some type of candy or buy him ice cream or games of pool when they'd meet up in town, even though the man had little money.
In 1996, the man graduated from UNK with a degree in science education. Before the man returned home to his village high in the Himalayas, Nyffeler and his dad took him to Cabela's so he could buy a trekking backpack.
"I didn't have any idea of the type of poverty he was from," Nyffeler says.
And Nyffeler didn't have any idea how important this man, Mahabir Pun, was to become to his country.
Years later, in 2007, Nyffeler met up with his old friend again when Pun returned to UNK to give the commencement speech and receive an honorary doctorate.
That year, Pun had won the Ramon Magsaysay Award – considered the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize – for the effort he led in bringing wireless Internet to his extremely remote village and to others like it in Nepal and for improving the educational, healthcare and economic hopes of so many of his people.
"We talked about his incredible projects," Nyffeler says. "I told him I wanted to travel to Nepal to see them firsthand and do something to help his cause. He just smiled and said, ‘OK.' And since then I have been determined to get there."
Nyffeler is 29 now, a graduate of UNK himself ('05) and a freelance photographer and videographer. He and writer Chele Norrie, a journalism graduate out of UNL, traveled to Kathmandu in late February to begin their dream of documenting Pun's dream.
It's a project they've called "The Himalayan Gap," for the digital and information-technology gap that exists in many rural communities in Nepal and for the gap in educational and healthcare services. (Read more about their efforts at www.thehimalayangap.com)
They want to show how Pun's selfless mission to bring a wireless network to those villages is closing that gap.
Nyffeler will take photos for a book, which Norrie will write. He will shoot video for a short documentary, which the two then will use to try to inspire a larger production company to turn Pun's story into a full-production documentary and maybe enter it in festivals to further spread the word.
"Our goal, No. 1, is to show how just one person can truly make a difference by presenting what Mahabir has done and is continually doing to revolutionize rural Nepal," Nyffeler says. "Hopefully, this may inspire other people in other parts of the world to replicate the ways Mahabir has utilized wireless technology to bridge the poverty, knowledge and informational gaps."
He and Norrie stayed in Kathmandu a few days to adjust their bodies to the climate and to see the sights. While in that capital city of Nepal, they met up with other former Nepali exchange students they know or have met through friends or Facebook.
Then took a 10-hour bus ride up the mountains, then rode in a taxi for 30 minutes and – once the road ended – hiked for nine hours to get to Mahabir's village, Nangi.
They arrived March 1. They will stay about a month, sleeping in a guesthouse and eating food prepared by the village women.
Nyffeler is excited to see his old friend again. Pun's demeanor is quiet and calm, Nyffeler says. But there's just something about him that inspires people to get to know him and to help him out.
Pun came up with the idea for creating a wireless network after seeing the need for better education in his village. To make it happen, he returned to UNK in 2001 and completed a master's degree in educational administration. While in Kearney, he took computer classes and learned how to refurbish and run computers. He studied new trends in information technology.
"I feel blessed to have known such an inspiring person, and I use that for motivation to keep working for better things in my life," Nyffeler says. "With Mahabir's example, as well as in our own experience, it has taught us that nothing happens when hands and feet are idle – if you truly want something to happen you have to get out and do it yourself to the best of your capability."
Nyffeler says his UNK education has helped both him and Pun realize their dreams.
"My education has enabled me to follow my dream of becoming a freelance photojournalist and, in a way, it is bringing me back to help another fellow UNK student.
"Mahabir has become well known across the world for his work in revolutionizing the way people think about developing education and healthcare systems in remote and geographically isolated areas. And he, too, would credit his education to the professors at UNK."
Global engagement is one of the priorities of the university's Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities – a $1.2 billion fundraising effort.
Only a small percentage of University of Nebraska students study abroad. The university's goal is to give every undergraduate the opportunity for a meaningful international experience – classes, internships, research opportunities or service learning. Another goal is to attract more international students to the University of Nebraska campuses, building on the success of programs such as UNK's initiative to attract students from Japan.
If you'd like to help the UNK's global engagement efforts, contact Lucas Dart with the University of Nebraska Foundation's Kearney office, 308-698-5278.
If you'd like to help support global engagement at the University of Nebraska in general, contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.