I thought I’d begin the new year by sharing a very uplifting educational story about Greg Mortenson. Over the holidays, I just completed reading two very inspirational books about Greg and his mission to promote peace by building schools in the remotest villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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His quest and his passion for promoting peace through education are found in the following two New York Times Bestsellers:
If you teach a boy, you educate an individual, but if you teach a girl, you educate a community.
In 1993 Greg set out to conquer K2, the second highest mountain in the world. Although he climbed to within 2000 feet of the 28,269 foot peak, he failed to summit because he was exhausted from the arduous climb and the effort expended during a dramatic, 48 hour, high-altitude rescue of a fellow mountaineer. Due to his fatigued and disoriented state, he became separated from the others on the descent and missed the trail markings during his 39 mile trek back to the base camp. Greg strayed 8 miles up a deserted valley where he stumbled into a remote, impoverished village of in Pakistan. The local chief took him in and offered him a cup of tea and over several days nursed Greg back to health. In fact, it was this village elder who explained that:
Here (in Pakistan and Afghanistan), we drink 3 cups of tea to do business; the first, you are a stranger, the second you become our friend, and the third you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything – even die.
Following his recovery, Greg thought that he could help out the village children by sending them school supplies once he returned to California. When he asked to be taken to the nearby school, he was shocked to find 82 children, comprised of 78 boys and 4 girls, gathered in the open and kneeling on the frosty ground copying their multiplication tables by scratching in the dirt with sticks. Even though a teacher cost the equivalent of $1.00 per day, this village was so poor that they had to share a teacher with a neighbouring village. On this day the children, who had a passion for learning, were working independently practicing their lessons. Upon leaving, Greg promised to return and build a school in this remote village in Pakistan.
The story of Three Cups of Tea begins with Greg’s challenge, back in California, to raise $12,000.00 to build his first school. He hand-typed 580 letters requesting contributions from American celebrities and powerful people. Unfortunately six months would elapse before he received a single cheque of $100.00. During this time, it was school students that came to his aid. Greg’s mother was an elementary school principal in Wisconsin. She invited Greg to speak to her 600 students about his passion. Greg admits that he was having difficulty explaining to adults why he wanted to build a school in Pakistan but the kids understood immediately. Following his presentation, the elementary students spontaneously initiated a “Pennies for Pakistan” programme in which they collected 62,345 pennies in two 40 gallon garbage cans. One might say that it was the children that literally primed the pump with pennies. In fact, this initial idea has grown to a wonderful educational resource that I will share with readers in a future blog post.
Once Greg finally received a funding cheque for $12,000.00, he sold all his possessions and returned to Pakistan. Here he was challenged to find local support, to negotiate, purchase, and transport supplies (often on the backs of the village men) to this remote site. During the building process, the village chief provided some rather sound advice when he told Greg to stop trying to control everything but to sit down, be quiet, and let the community become empowered in this important bridging and building process.
In 1996 Greg co-founded the non-profit Central Asia Institute whose mission focuses on promoting and supporting community-based education, especially for girls. Research indicates that young women are the biggest potential change agent in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This transformation has been referred to as the Girl Effect which echoes the African proverb “If you teach a boy, you educate an individual, but if you teach a girl, you educate a community.” Providing a young girl with at least a grade 5 education improves the basics of health for her and her family and also helps her spread the value of education within her community.
Word of Greg’s success, in building this first elementary school and other community improvements in rural Pakistan, spread like wildfire throughout the country and neighbouring Afghanistan. Three Cups of Tea, together with Stones into Schools share Greg’s passion and progress as he struggles to promote peace one school at a time.
Over the past 14 years, Greg has made 14 trips to Pakistan and/or Afghanistan. His passion and perseverance has established or significantly supports 164 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 68,000 children, including 56,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before.
I encourage every educator, and those who value education, to read Three Cups of Tea so that you, too, can learn about a humble man who went from climbing mountains to moving them.
Take care & keep smiling