Have you ever met anyone who exemplifies the terms philanthropy and altruism? Well, meet Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer turned humanitarian, whose book, written with David Oliver Relin, THREE CUPS OF TEA: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time, illustrates how he built 55 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greg Mortenson is one of the rare individuals whose humanitarian feats supersede his personal boundaries of language, culture, race and religion.
His incredible voyage of triumph, as illustrated in the book, began in failure. In 1993, after a failed attempt at climbing K2 in Pakistan, he walked for five days and stumbled into a village, Korphe, injured and emaciated. There, the villagers nurtured him for several days. While recovering, he saw their "school" and the scene of 84 children sitting on a frosty ledge, with no roof over their heads, writing on the ground with sticks. This vision promulgated his life's vocation. Because they couldn't afford to pay their own teacher $1 a day, they shared a teacher with a neighboring village. Appalled, he rashly promised the villagers he would build them a school.
In America, raising $12,000 was no easy task for a climber who lived out of his car. Frustrated at the lack of response from famous people, he wrote 580 letters of appeal, and he even sold his car. It was not until his niece's school raised $623, that fundraising success ensued. Then, fortunately, Jean Hoerni, a physicist and a one-time trekker to the Karakorum Mountains, gave him $12,000.
Back at the village, he realized they would first have to build a bridge to carry the school construction supplies. Undaunted, he built one with the villagers, and then they built the school. Now, after 31 trips over 14 years, Mortenson's non-profit organization, Central Asia Institute, has built 52 schools in Pakistan, six in Afghanistan, and 30 tent schools after the earthquake of 2005. These are helping to educate 24,000 children, some of whom walk up to three hours a day to attend classes.
Mortenson has made tremendous personal endeavors to build cultural bridges with the people of Northern Pakistan. He speaks Balti, Farsi and Urdu. His journey, though, has had some treacherous bends. In Afghanistan, he was kidnapped, and held captive for eight days. After September 11, he received death threats from Americans, and has been "debriefed" by the CIA twice. Two separate fatwas were issued to banish him from Pakistan for educating girls, but these were repealed by enlightened clerics. Mortenson admits that the book's subtitle, "One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations One School at a Time," was chosen by the publisher, and is a distortion. "I don't really care about fighting terror," Mortenson says. "The biggest issues in the world we need to address today are poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance. Ignorance breeds hatred."
Mortenson"s monumental humanitarian effort, and his ideology of loving every child as much as his own two children, have earned him many humanitarian and peace awards, but none so gratifying as the smile of an impoverished child rewarded by knowledge. "I look into the eyes of my children, and I see the eyes of children in Pakistan and Afghanistan," he says.
Page created on 9/18/2010 12:39:22 PM
Last edited 9/18/2010 12:39:22 PM