Greg Mortenson is changing the world. If you haven't heard about him and his mission to bring schools to Pakistan and Afghanistan, you NEED to read the book Three Cups of Tea! It is the very moving account of Mortenson's efforts to eliminate poverty along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan by educating the region's children, especially the girls.
Mortenson's mission began in 1994, when he failed to summit K2, the second tallest mountain in the world. On his way down from the mountain, Greg got lost and by a simple twist of fate, he wandered into a small village called Korphe. Korphe is in the Bradu Valley, a very impoverished area on the northern border of Pakistan. The main source of outside income comes from mountaineers who are hoping to scale K2. After Greg's climb, he was suffering from frostbite and exhaustion. The people of Korphe nursed Greg back to health and in return, Mortenson promised to build them a school. He had no idea that the course of his life was about to change.
Mortenson lived in his car for over a year in order to save up money to build that school. He didn't know the first thing about grant writing or fund raising. Luckily, he met a fellow mountaineer with deep pockets who wrote him a check for $18,000 on the spot. When Greg got back to Pakistan and purchased all of the supplies for the school, he realized that the people of Korphe needed a bridge as much as a school, so he had to call his donor and ask for more money. Thankfully, the bridge and the school were both completed. But Mortenson didn't stop there. He founded the Central Asia Institute, which now operates 58 schools in the region.
Three Cups of Tea isn't just a hippie, feel-good book about some ignorant white guy "helping" the world's poor. It is a wake up call that every American needs to read. The poverty of Pakistan and Afghanistan has made both countries a fertile breeding ground for terrorism because people don't have any other choice. The Taliban's madrassas are some of the only schools in the region. If that's the only chance you had to educate your child, what choice would you make? After graduating from one of these schools, if you had no other job options, would you sign up to become a "freedom fighter" with the Taliban?
The US government encouraged the people of Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980's, but after the breakup of the USSR we abandoned them. Similarly, now that we have obliterated what little was left of their country, we have also abandoned them. The paltry amount of foreign aid that was approved to rebuild Afghanistan has been diverted to build airfields in Iraq. The longer the US occupies this region without extending a humanitarian hand, the more we will foment hatred towards the US and nurture the seeds of terrorism that are planted in the madrassas.
Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute are providing people with options. Their website says that their mission is to "promote and provide community-based education and literacy programs, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Central Asia." More than 50% of the students in CAI schools are girls. And before a school is built, CAI gets a commitment from the village elders that it will educate its girls up to the fifth grade. The community is involved in every step on the planning, construction, and day to day operations of the schools. Mortenson has worked tirelessly for the last decade to ensure that these schools are embedded within the communities they serve and sustainable for the long run.
Three Cups of Tea is one of the hottest books on the market right now. If you look for it at your local library, you're bound to see a waiting list 20-30 people deep. Why not purchase the book directly from CAI so that 7% of the cost goes directly towards CAI projects? (Your order will be processed through Amazon. Normally, I don't support Amazon. But hey . . . if the money is going towards CAI, I'll bend the rules just this once.) Their website also tells you how you can get involved in this mission for peace. You can also listen to a discussion from last week's Diane Rehm show.
So many of us talk a good game about wanting to make a difference int he world, but a lot of that is just talk. I, for one, talk a lot. There are very few Greg Mortenson's in this world. I hope the popularity of his book will mean that more Americans will at least bust out their checkbooks.