Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Off Topic---Biography: Build Schools, Make Peace

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time , Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, 349 pages, $16.00.

A likely candidate for the next Nobel Peace Prize is Greg Mortenson. No Powerpoint with video clips, no impressive public speaking, just stones into schools.

Who said "God protects idiots?"? Failures may lead to unplanned but much needed successes. A emergency room nurse who would rather be mountain climbing in the Himalayas, Mortenson's success took him by surprise.

During one climb on K2, he rescued a comrade then became dangerously ill. He was sheltered for almost two months by Pakistani villagers. In gratitude he promised to build the town's first school after he witnessed the village's children going to classes on a windy plateau. No walls, no roof.

The Central Asia Institute grew out of Mortenson's near futile efforts to raise money without any expertise or talent. Now more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan have been built by the CAI. The mountain climber's efforts are described in detail by Relin the co-author. The efforts both enrage and break the heart of the reader. Village elders, con artists, philanthropists, mujahideen, Taliban officials, ambitious school girls and upright Muslims are described in fascinating detail.

This amazing story has lessons. As Mortenson and Relin describe the post-9/11 era, they argue that the United States must confront Islamic extremism with collaborative and non-governmental efforts to alleviate the effects of poverty and to improve access to education, especially for girls. Captivating and suspenseful accounts of unlikely friendships and unexpected benefactors propel the story forward

Inspirational? In a way. Literary merit? Somewhat. Melodramatic? At times. Pacing? Nothing is fast. The rule is: The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time, you are an honored guest. The third time you become family.

Memorable? Definitely yes. Mortenson's efforts to address poverty, educate girls, overcome cultural divides, and to locate Americans willing to part with tens of thousands of dollars to build schools in enemy territory is amazing and very humane. Enormous obstacles are overcome by the will and endurance of one man. Against the odds, Mortenson creates trust and hope among the Pakistani villagers and American readers of Three Cups of Tea. He began his campaign in 1993 and this is 2010.

Several bi-partisan U.S. Congressional representatives nominated Mortenson for the Nobel Peace Prize in both 2008 and 2009. The award recipient is chosen by a secret process and announced in October the following year. As of 2009, Mortenson has established or significantly supports 131 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 58,000 children, including 44,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before. Maybe Mortenson could get Al Gore to go on tour with a Powerpoint with video clips or get Barack Obama to read a speach for the cause of building schools in Pakistan. No. Mortenson doesn't need the recognition of five Norwegians. The schools are his monuments and his voice.

Contact: Greg Mortenson, Central Asia Institute

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