The man from SiklesTribute to Suraj Kumar Gurung (1952 - 2023) educator and entrepreneur
A headmaster of the local school, an entrepreneur and an ambassador of the community who helped foster relationships with the outside world, Suraj Kumar Gurung, fondly known as 'Master Surje' was a fixture in Sikles.
For international visitors he was an excellent interpreter, educator and friend who was always willing to share his vast knowledge of Gurung culture and nature. For the locals, he was the eyes and ears of the community.
On 2 January 2023, at the age of 71, Suraj passed away in a house fire.
He was born in Sikles, Kaski and dedicated his life to the village. After completing his early education in India, he did his Bachelor of Education from Prithvi Narayan Campus, Pokhara.
He then dedicated nearly four decades to teaching before retiring in 2012. Although politics was not his cup of tea, he contested and won the first local elections as the village needed an educated and committed leader. He served his term as the ward chair of Ward 1 in Madi Rural Municipality following his belief in sustainability and justice.
He was also a social entrepreneur looking for opportunities to uplift the economic condition of the community. He established the local village shop in the centre of Sikles, introduced vegetable farming, ran a rice mill, developed poultry farming and introduced mule transport before the road to the village was completed.
He also served as a member of Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) for sixteen years and was passionate about including traditional knowledge into the ACAP ethos. He encouraged the community to keep the entire village neat, clean and green. It was because of people like Suraj Gurung that in 2014, the Conservation Area Management Committee, Parche under ACAP won the prestigious UNDP Equator Initiative Prize.
Over the years he welcomed, and supported, many volunteers from United World College of Southeast Asia (UWCSEA), Singapore and beyond.
Master Surje is remembered by all of them as being the heart and soul of the community. He was highly committed to improving the education in Nepal, both the infrastructure and teaching methods. Even after retiring, he made sure to help outsiders settle down, understand the complex social issues, challenges in the village and schools.
Gunhild Flaamo was a graduate student when she visited Sikles from Norway 25 years ago. She had helped the Norwegian talk to people and gather information about local environmental knowledge for her Master's thesis.
Gurung also helped her set up the Lali Guras Fund that provides scholarships for needy students. The Fund named by Gurung after the national flower of Nepal with an endowment of Rs1.1 million has supported over 300 students.
"We continued our partnership with the establishment of Lali Guras Fund. I wanted to contribute with resources as an appreciation of the generosity the Sikles community had shown me. I could not have established the fund without him," says Flaamo.
Tributes have poured in from the Sikles diaspora community as well as volunteers whose lives Gurung touched with his generosity and knowledge.
“I remember being so impressed by his passion, vision, and hard work for the Sikles community,” writes Arianna.
“He was in inspiration, so kind and so helpful for my undergraduate dissertation research. And with a brilliant sense of humour,” writes another visitor Zuzanna.
“What a loss the Sikles and wider community will be feeling right now. Such a keen mind full of generosity and drive. In the times I had the pleasure of talking with him, he always made me feel I had more to offer than I realised,” writes Paul.
“What a huge loss. I can’t imagine the village without him. He was a pillar of the community in the trusted sense. He really held it up in so many ways," says Alyn.
BK Shrestha from Global Action Nepal who worked in Kaski area says, “He was not only educator for children but whole Sikles community."
Suraj was always immediately available when the authors visited Sikles and updated them on village affairs with a great humour. He was always concerned about the number of young people leaving the village.
Suraj took great pride in his role as political leader in his later years. He was a keen supporter not only of formal education but also non-formal education and took keen interest in the discussion group literacy classes that ran in Sikles.
Suraj sir was truly a ‘bridge’ connecting Sikles with international and national visitors and built connections to make Sikles a model for sustainable heritage village.
Suraj’s lifelong investment in education to his people has built a confidence and established a network to work for the development of the community and continue his legacy.
As Gehendra Gurung, deputy headmaster in Sikles notes in his emotional tribute, Suraj was “everyone’s guardian” and his “educational intellectual contribution to the village and contribution to rural municipality and social service and whole service to the nation will remain a golden one”.
Man Bahadur Gurung, Federal Member of Parliament (Kaski-1) from Sikles remembers Suraj as an intellectual whose knowledge and wisdom will be greatly missed. He will remain as a star in the hearts and minds of people because he was not only born in but was also a man of Sikles.
The passing of Suraj, just as his presence did in life, has united people all over the world. To honour and respect his work we are setting up a Suraj Gurung Memorial Foundation to raise funds to support education in Sikles with the support of his family and wider network – link here.
Hum Gurung is Asia Partnership Manager, BirdLife International and Sara Parker is Reader in Development Studies at Liverpool John Moores University.