I just finished Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Mortenson (known as Dr. Greg) attempted to summit K2 but unfortunately was unsuccessful. He had severe altitude sickness and on the way down from base camp he got lost and ended up in a remote village in northern Pakistan where he was looked after by the locals. While he was in the village recovering he saw that the children had only rudimentary classes and these were conducted outside in the cold windy weather. He was inspired to raise the money to build them a school as a thank you for looking after him and was started down his amazing journey.
Once back in the United States, Dr. Greg struggled to raise the money for the school but eventually managed to get enough donations to build the school and formed the Central Asian Institute (CAI). Back in Pakistan he had to overcome the corruption as well as to learn the local customs to get his school built in such a remote location.
The first time you share tea with a Balti you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honoured guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die.
Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with then I could ever hope to teach them.
After he built the school Dr. Greg realized how much more there was to do and though he wanted to educate all the children but his passion became educating girls.
If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rate of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.
With every school built by the CAI, a woman’s center was also built to allow the women of the community to have somewhere of their own to gather and also somewhere to manufacture good for sale. This allowed the women to have their own income to supplement that brought in by their husbands.
Dr. Greg also realized that it was not enough to just build schools and women’s centres. In some villages he paid for water projects to bring potable water to the villagers or even just paid the government teachers in schools who had not been paid for months or even years.
Post 9/11 the work of the CAI has become even more important with the heavy handed way that the US has gone into the region. It is one thing to throw the Taliban out of power but another thing to promise the world and then under deliver on those promises with the distraction of Iraq.
The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.
To date the CAI has:
- Built 131 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan[
- Fully or partially supported 687 teachers
- Educated over 58,000 students, including 44,000 girls
Dr. Greg and the CAI have probably done more in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan to (inadvertently) fight the rise of Islamic extremism which leads to terrorism. He early on recognised how important it was to educate the young, empower women and raise standards of living in villages. This allows villagers to have an interest in their own lives and success and stops them easily being misled by the lies and false promises of the extremists. The book read very well and almost seemed like a piece of fiction as Dr. Greg had to overcome so many obstacles to succeed. The books ends just after 9/11 with Dr. Greg starting to build schools in Afghanistan and I would liked to have seen an afterward with an update on the last ten years. Regardless I was inspired and made a donation to an organization that is clearly making a difference.
For more information go to: www.ikat.org
Update: 60 Minutes has questioned the veracity of Mortenson’s claims. Regardless of any exaggeration, I think that he has accomplished is still impressive.