Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Story You Should Know: Stones Into Schools


The story of Greg Mortenson and his mission in Pakistan and Afghanistan to build schools, in my mind, ranks amongst one of the more important stories of today’s Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since 1996, Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer and humanitarian, has built 78 schools, many of them focusing on education for girls, first in Pakistan and then in Afghanistan, through the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which he and Dr. Jean Hoerni, a silicon transistor pioneer, co--founded. CAI also sponsors the Pennies for Peace program, where schoolchildren raise pennies to help fund CAI's activities.

Central Asia Institute's achievements include:

Established or significantly supported 131 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan;
Fully or partially supported 687 teachers;
Provided education for over 58,000 students, including 44,000 girls;
Provided ongoing education for victims of Pakistan's October 2005 7.8 Richter scale earthquake. (The quake killed 74,000 people, including 18,000 students, and displaced 2.8 million refugees. CAI has rebuilt or re-established 16 schools destroyed in the earthquake.)

Greg Mortenson’s awards, book awards and mentions, and honorary doctorate degrees are many.

In 2009, Greg Mortenson received recognition for his work in Pakistan: the Sitara-e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan), Pakistan's highest civilian award, for his humanitarian work and promotion of girl’s schools and education.

He was recently deservingly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, by several bi-partisan members of U.S. Congress, and according to Norwegian odd-makers was believed to have been in a handful of finalists of the Peace prize that was awarded to President Obama on October 10, 2009.

It is clear from what has been written, Greg Mortenson is an extraordinary human being. His humanitarian work in Pakistan and Afghanistan is something truly to behold. Against formidable odds, he has accomplished more to uplift the people in these countries, albeit his work geographically localized as it might be, than the Afghan Internal Security Force or the U.S. Military, any diplomat, President or Head of State. And, he has been the protagonist; his work has been all hands-on, it has not been from behind a desk. Every American should be humbled by this man’s persistence and endurance, compassion and courage. Our country should hold Greg Mortenson’s accomplishments as a model and example of what can be achieved, here at home, in Afghanistan, or anywhere in the world. And we should be proud because he is an American.

As a child who lived in Tanzania, East Africa, for 12 years, he tells of an African proverb that states educate a boy, you educate an individual; educate a girl, and you educate a community, which has turned out to be his life’s destiny. That adage became the premise for his Afghanistan mission: books, not bombs, are the best weapons against extremist groups like the Taliban.

The Christian Science Monitor posted an excellent article, Key to Afghan crisis: tea and education. In that article it is written: Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, says success lies in building trust and schools in rural Afghanistan; As President Obama pledged another 30,000 US troops Dec. 1 to root out terrorists in Afghanistan, Mortenson is suggesting that effort must go hand in hand with another: grass-roots education; education is the long-term solution to terrorism and violent extremism; Greg Mortenson doesn’t need to rely on think tanks or arcane policy documents to find the road to a better Afghanistan.

It is also clear from what has been written that he has influenced Admiral Mullen, General Petraeus, and General McChrystal, in that President Obama’s new Afghan strategy seems to reflect in many ways Greg Mortenson’s Key to Afghan tactic.

Greg Mortenson is the author (one was co-authored) of two very inspirational books: He describes his initial journey into Pakistan in Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace … One School At A Time, a New York Times bestseller who he wrote with journalist David Oliver Relin; and a new book, a sequel, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the blog there is a tab labeled, Someone You Should Know. Its stated mission is to protect and promote the reputation and dignity of America's Warriors. The blog posts stories of heroism.

In America, a militaristic country, the common thought is that nothing can be done in a non-belligerent way. For the most part, Americans believe that talking gets us nowhere and that negotiations are synonymous with appeasement. Americans are under the misguided belief that if we did not have a military we would not have a country. Consequently, they buy into stories as told in Someone You Should Know, and the warrior becomes the true hero. These stories are the ones that are usually headlined.

Well, the Story You Should Know is that of Greg Mortenson. Stories such as those of Greg Mortenson take a long time, if ever, to be headlined. Americans do not view the Greg Mortensons of our world as heroes, there acts are compassionate and perhaps admired, but to most Americans, at least the ones that I know, do not think of them as heroes. Contrary to that mindset, in my mind Greg Mortenson is unequivocally a hero.

The Greg Mortensons of this world will collectively bring about peace to this world, where the belligerence of the warrior will not.

Asalaam-o-Alaikum (Peace be with you)