Greg Mortensen teaching
Author & Director Central Asia Institute
"Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight
Terrorism and Build Nations... One School at a Time"
History Corner, Building 200,
Room 002, Stanford University
Tuesday, March 21, 2006, 7:30-9:00 pm
Edited by Peter Y. Chou
Preface: I picked up a postcard at the entrance of Stanford's Green Library "Three Cups of Tea".
It's a book about "One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations... One School at a Time". The front
of the postcard shows three young Muslim girls reading. In back of the postcard is a quote from NBC's
Tom Brokaw: "Three Cups of Tea is one of the most remarkable adventure stories of our time.
Greg Mortenson's dangerous and difficult quest to build schools in the wildest parts of Pakistan and
Afghanistan is not only a thrilling read, it's proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination
of character and determination, really can change the world." The author Greg Mortenson was going to speak
at History Corner, Building 200, Room 002 on Tuesday, March 21 at 7:30 pm. This is the same place
where Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia gave a scintillating talk on "Buddhism: More Than Religion" (March 3)
and Professor Stanley Insler of Yale presented an inspiring talk on "Zarathustra: The Man and the Message"
(March 13). I'm not familiar with Greg Mortenson but after checking his web site, it struck me that here's
someone who is putting the philosophy of Buddha and Zoroaster into action through good work and good deeds.
A friend who was going to give me a ride from Foothill College to Stanford was late and we got to the
lecture at 7:45 pm. The room was packed and luckily I found a seat in the second row. Because of
glitches in Greg's laptop, his lecture was delayed. Someone in the audience went up and helped to get
his PowerPoint presentation in working order. What happened next was one breathtaking slide after another
Mountain-top views of K-2, scenic shots of mountain ranges, Pakistani and Afghan villages, poor living
quarters, sage-like portraits of tribal elders, and oh the children
poor and malnourished, but all eager to learn and get educated. And this American mountaineer coming to help
them build a school, then two, and finally 55 over a 12-year period. This is truly an inspirng tale of
heroism and pure-hearted devotion to the highest ideal of mankind. After his lecture, I went up to Greg
and shook his hand, telling him how much I enjoyed his slide show talk. Then I gave him a big hug, saying:
"I'm proud of what you're doing it's truly Bodhisattva action!" Greg appreciated my remards, we
exchanged business cards, and he signed the "Three Cups of Tea" postcard: "Peter May your
spirits soar! G M" (perhaps his Balti name or initials?).
Greg's talk ended at 8:35 pm and the Q & A session
ended at 9 pm. Here are my 7-pages of notes with web links on this wonderful human being to share with my readers.
Mary Dakin the Associate Director & Outreach Coordinator
from CREEES (Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies) introduced Greg Mortensen
"Greg is the founder of Central Asia Institute in Montana. Greg will speak
about his experiences that led to his recent book Three Cups of Tea which is ranked #14 in its first appearance on the
New York Times Best Seller List"
(March 26, 2006).
K-2's 28,251-foot peak is 4-miles high. Although Everest has a higher altitude (29,017 feet), the summit of K-2 is more difficult to climb. [As of June 2000, only 189 people have climbed to the apex of K-2 compared to almost 1900 who have ascended to the top of Everest.] The granite mass of K-2 can fit 82 Matterhorns inside! The masculine peak of K-2 is called Chogori by the locals. There is also a feminine peak (name ?) that is a gentler climb. In 1993, we started out with 12 climbers. We took the Western route because there is less chance of an avalanche. We passed a pyramid of metal plaques honoring those who died on K-2. This memorial was named after Art Gilkey who died on K-2 in 1953. After 78 days, I got very close [25,000 feet] but didn't quite get to the top. I was so busy climbing that I failed to notice the beauty all around me the great ice cathedrals, the towering spires, the fluted ridges, the panoramic scenery. This sherpa [slide] carried my load down the mountain. I was totally dehydrated and emaciated. The Korphe villagers nourished me back to health with goat milk and paiyu chai (green tea) marinated with yak butter.
So the first chapter of my book is titled "Failure". In the village of Korphe, Pakistan, the child mortality rate is one out of three die before the age of one. In 1999, the hemoglobin count of the women there is 8-9, much too low they were all anemic [Normal hemoglobin count is 12 g/dl-16 g/dl for women and 14 g/dl-18 g/dl for men]. The literacy rate there was 3%. Children squatted on their knees scratching their lessons in the dirt with sticks. There was no teacher he was in another village. Korphe was so poor that it could only afford the teacher's $1 daily wage for two days per week. But the kids looked so determined and enthusiastic to learn. They reminded me of my sister Christa. Since I couldn't help her anymore, I decided that I'd help them. So I promised that I will build a school for them.
When I came back to the States, I wrote 580 letters to celebrities, businessmen and other prominent Americans soliciting donations for my school project in Pakistan. The only reply I got was from Tom Brokaw who wrote a check for $100. I submitted 16 grant proposals and they were all rejected. Then I sold my possessions, my car and climbing gears, cleaned out my savings account and cashed in my University of California retirement policy where I had worked as a trauma nurse. All in all I raised only $2,000. I spoke to a group of elementary school children in River Falls, Wisconsin, where my Mom was the principal. The school children were sympathetic to the kids without a school in Pakistan. They went to their piggy banks and donated 64,000 pennies. Then Dr. Jean Hoerni, a Swiss climber and microchip physicist sent $12,000 to build my school. I have to tell this story how Hoerni discovered the planar process in the integrated circuitry of computer microchips. He told me that one day while taking a shower, he noticed the grooves in his hands filled with soap bubbles. This gave him the idea of using silicon dioxide slices (wafers) to connect transitors together. Dr. Hoerni also convinced Arthur Rock, a venture capitalist to support my efforts. Before I could build my school, the Korphe villagers told me they need a 282-foot suspension bridge over a frothing river to transport building materials for the school. In 1995 the bridge was built in 10 weeks. When the time came to build the school, a village elder picked up wooden planks and carried them on his back. The planks weighed about 100 pounds, yet this elder who reads the Koran to the villagers was the first to pitch in and help. The local villagers had tears in their eyes when they saw this, and they all volunteered to help. [The slide showing a long line of villagers carrying long wooden planks on their backs up a hilly terrain was truly touching and a sight to behold.]
I learned a very important lesson in 1996. I had been working for three years to get the first school built in Korphe. I was doing what we call in the West "micromanaging." One day a wise, old village chief named Haji Ali [slide he looks like a sage!] took me aside and said, "We are grateful that you are going to build the first school in the area and bring education to our people. But you need to do one thing: You need to shut up, sit down and let us do the work. You need to let go and give empowerment to the local villagers." Late that evening, we were drinking paiyu chai salt green tea with rancid yak butter. Haji Ali told me, "In our culture it takes three cups of tea to do business. On the first cup you are a stranger. The second cup you become a friend, and the third cup you become family. The process takes years." Later, on my own, I compared it with 30 minute power lunches in America. Over there, I have learned, it's about relationships.
The first school we completed in 1996 had 5 rooms and could accommodate 100 Korphe school children with an endowment for a teacher's salary. Then I built more schools in northern Pakistan and also in neighboring Afghanistan. By the winter of 1999, we had built 22 schools, and more villages all over Baltistan wanted to be next. In the late 1990s, I received many threats from hard-line local religious leaders near the town of Jafarabad, one of the proposed sites for a girl's school. A handful of mullahs claimed that I was an infidel teaching Muslim girls to read and write, violated the Koran. One leader, Mullah Agha Mubharik of Chutran, issued a fatwa, a religious decree that sought to ban me permanently from Pakistan.
One day I was called into the middle of a mosque in a kind of inner sanctum. Eight mullahs were there, very imposing with black turbans on. And they brought me this red, velvet box. I thought this was it. I'm going to get kicked out of the country. Instead, Said Abas opened the box and inside was a letter in the ornate Persian Farsi script which basically said that they have reviewed my request. In the holy Koran, there's nothing that prohibits education. In fact, it encourages education for both our "brothers and sisters". Furthermore, as an infidel I had not only their approval but their blessings the work that I was doing was in the highest principles of Islam.
It was a sigh of relief that my work in building schools for girls in Pakistan had approval finally. When girls are educated, there is population control and less infant mortality. Young men needs permission from their mothers to go on Jihad. If mothers are educated, they won't condone their sons to become suicide bombers or perform acts of violence. The mullahs on the other hand fear education. That's why the Talibans bombed all the girl's schools. Most men leave their villages, but the women stay behind their communities. When I saw my old friend Haj Ali, he was sad because his wife of five decades had just died. She was buried facing west to Mecca. Haj Ali told me that he may not be seeing me the next time when I visit him. He tells me "When that moment comes, go to my grave site, and listen to the wind." Sure enough, on my next visit, Haj Ali was gone. He was my mentor and I learned so much from him about their Muslim culture and about life. I went to his grave and just listened to the wind. It was then that the wind told me that my field of dreams was not somewhere in a corn field of Iowa, or on the top of K-2, but right here in Balti, building schools for their children. The girls in these villages would walk three hours to school for five hours of education, then another three hours home. That's how dedicated they are in learning. I'm only glad that the schools I've built helped them in fulfilling their dreams.
Q & A Session (8:35 pm)
Greg: To fight poverty and illiteracy in Pakistan, the cost is $1/month per child. The United Nations have budgeted $8 billion/year for education to eradicate global illiteracy by 2015. We need to live not in fear but hope. We as adults have failed to bring peace to the world. If all the children get educated, perhaps they will bring more hope and peace. Our Central Asia Institute has built 55 schools and are now educating 22,000 children in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Q: What about the last earthquake in Pakistan? Did it destroy your schools?
Q: What about organizations that are doing missionary work?
Aren't they spreading religion instead of education?
Q: What happened after 9/11?
Q: What are your goals in the next five years?
Q: Is there a local economy in these villages?
Q: Are there any embarrassment that the government is not doing their job?
Q: What about nutrition in these villages?
Q: Can you travel to Pakistan at any time?
Q: Do you bring volunteers to the villages?
Q: How much does it cost to build a school there?
The Q & A session ended at 9 pm.
Book Reviews of Three Cups of Tea:
Web Sites on Greg Mortenson:
About Greg Mortenson
(Author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight
Terrorism and Build Nations One School at a Time
(CAI Mission, Places, People, Self-Sustainability, Donations,
Collaborative Efforts, FAQ, History, Volunteer, Projects, Media, Photos)
Central Asia Institute History
(Photo: Greg Mortenson & Jean Hoerni with Sir Edmund Hillary)
(Three Cups of Tea, Educational Outreach, Past Events, FAQ)
News Stories on Greg Mortenson:
|If you enjoyed Greg's Talk, please
Buy Greg Mortenson's new book
Three Cups of Tea at Amazon.com
Donate to Central Asia Institute
for the noble work he's doing.
Peter Y. Chou, WisdomPortal.com
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