I have just finished reading Three Cups of Tea by adventurist Greg Mortenson and journalist David Oliver Relin and never have I been so moved by a the selfless actions of one individual. Regardless that the book is a #1 New York Times Bestseller, it is the underlying message that one person saw a great need and did something about it that makes this book such a compelling read. It should also be a call to action for all Canadians.
Mortenson was an aspiring mountaineer who wound up recuperating in the tiny Pakistani village of Korphe after a failed attempt at Pakistan’s K2, the junior sister of Mt. Everest. He was so moved by the compassion and humanity that he felt at the hands of his hosts that he asked the village chief what he, Mortenson, could do to repay them. The chief’s answer was simple and direct, “We need a school.” Without a shred of an idea of how to go about such a thing Mortenson promised the Chief, Haji Ali, that he would build the school. And so began what has become a life long mission to build schools and hope, especially for girls, in a land that most considered the most forbidding place on earth. After all, in addition to the formidable obstacles presented by the mountainous terrain this was also the birthplace of the Taliban and Mortenson was an American.
The story began in 1993 when Mortenson stumbled lost and disillusioned into Korphe and continues to this day. He began with one school but soon discovered the need was so great and the people so compassionate that he just couldn’t say no to the overwhelming number requests for schools in other villages. According to the website www.ikat.org , the voice of the Central Asia Institute, the organization founded to promote and fund Mortenson’s work, to date he has built over 78 schools and educated more than 28,000 students. Additionally, Mortenson and his group have built women’s centres, initiated health programs, financed scholarships and built at least one bridge (this bridge was central to the success of his first school). To ensure the continued success of his schools Mortenson also recruits and pays the teachers.
Mortenson’s all consuming passion to help out in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan also drove him to build schools in Afghanistan. At a time when few foreigners with or without military protection would venture outside Kabul, Mortenson hired a jeep to take him to the remotest and most dangerous part of the country. He succeeded there as well and now the CAI is busy doing what no other agency has been able to, win over the hearts and minds of the people. It is this aspect of his work that should endear him to all Canadians.
With 107 killed and many more wounded, Canada has paid a very high price in our attempt to stabilize Afghanistan. But there seems to be an endless supply of extremists who are determined to drive all foreigners out of the country, reinstate a fundamentalist government and undo all the progress made in modernizing the country, especially where women’s issues are concerned. These extremists are easily recruited from the very villages that Mortenson seeks to help. Because as one former Taliban fighter turned teacher put it, “If you cannot read then you cannot question what you are being told”. Mortenson’s mission is to empower the people via education and give them hope for the future which will reduce or even eliminate the influence of extremism and will eventually lead to a more democratic and stable Afghanistan. We all win and the sacrifices of our brave young men and women will not have been made in vain.
It is for this reason that I implore everyone to read Three Cups of Tea. I also challenge your readers to support this commendable project in any way they can. The authors have provided a very useful how-to guide at the back of the book.