When Jivan Shahi graduated from Budanilkantha School in 1982, he wanted to desperately to become a pilot. A few years later, one of the proudest moments in his life: getting a private pilot's license from a flying school in Seattle. Jivan returns to Nepal, finds there is a long waiting list to join Royal Nepal Airlines (this was the days before private airlines).
And by this point in his life, Jivan had got tired of Nepalis who didn't know where Humla was, or confused it with Jumla. And there was always an undercurrent of condescension, as if to say, "Oh yes, that remote place where there is never enough food to eat." Jivan decided he would do something about it, and the fastest way he knew how was to join politics.
Today, Jivan is the elected chairman of the Humla District Development Committee. While campaigning for local elections, Jivan promised two things to his voters: a road linking Simikot to Tibet so that basic needs would be cheaper and more accessible, and building latrines. "We needed to do first things first," explains Jivan.
Humla used to have one of the lowest development indicators among Nepal's 75 districts with an infant mortality rate nearly three times the national average. The reason so many children died was because of infections caused by poor sanitation, and respiratory illness due to breathing sooty fires indoors during four winter months of the year. So the next thing Jivan pushed were smokeless stoves, and now he has installed a 10 kilowatt microhydro plant near the district
"We have the resources, we have the people, with a little bit of help from outside we can make Humla self-sufficient," says Jivan. Half the 65 km highway to Tibet is complete and work is progressing with help from a UN food-for-work programme. After that, Simikot can be the base camp for a much shorter route for tourists and pilgrims to visit Mt Kailash and Mansarovar. Jumla's steep and arid mountains will always make it a food deficit area, but with income from tourism and other cash crops Jivan thinks Humlis don't have to depend anymore on handouts.
Jivan is in Kathmandu this week on an emergency mission because food supplies are running dangerously low, and flights carrying grain have been hampered by bad weather.
Jivan is that rare breed of educated Nepalis who refused to emigrate or live in the comfort of Kathmandu. He has chosen to return to his village to uplift his people. Jivan is modest, and he speaks softly. But his voice carries the conviction of his belief: "After I came back to Nepal, I figured instead of flying planes, I would give back to society what I took from it."