Greg Mortensen teaching
children in rural Pakistan

Greg Mortensen
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).

Greg Mortenson: I grew up in Tanzania as a boy near Mt. Kilimanjaro. There's an oral story-telling tradition in Africa, so I'll be following that tradition tonight in my slide presentation. My father founded the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center. My mother also founded an organization (?) there. In the mid-1970's I came back to America and got beat up in Minneapolis-St. Paul. It was my first experience of violence which I never had in Africa. I joined the U.S. military. My sister Christa had severe epilepsy. After watching the film Field of Dreams, she wanted to go to see the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. On July 30, 1992, my mother was going to take her there. And she had packed her bags the previous night. My mother went down to get her at 6 am, and found Christa died in her sleep [she was 23-years old]. I was heartbroken and went to Pakistan the following year to climb K-2, the world's second-highest mountain. I wanted to honor my sister's memory, and took along an amber necklace that she wore. I wanted to put her necklace on top of K-2.

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?
A: The October 8th 2005 earthquake killed 70,000 people in Pakistan. 2.8 million refugees were displaced from their homes. Landslides destroyed the crops. Luckily, none of our CAI schools were destroyed. (Parade, March 5, 2006)

Q: What about organizations that are doing missionary work? Aren't they spreading religion instead of education?
A: We're not interested in propagating political or religious ideology. Our main concern is literacy for the children. You know in all these years I've been in Pakistan and Afghanistan, not one Muslim proselytized to me. I've not seen one child whining in Pakistan. There are lots of whining children here in the U.S. Someone should do a research project on this cultural phenomenon.

Q: What happened after 9/11?
A: I was in Pakistan when 9/11 happened in 2001. I phoned my wife Tara in Montana. She told me that there were lots of hate mail and death threats from American people. My daughter got a phone call saying "I'm going to kill your Daddy because he's helping Muslim girls." But in Pakistan, a Muslim elder hugged me after 9/11 saying "You're here helping us to build schools for our children, getting funding to eradicate our poverty. I can't understand why those Muslims are destroying the World Trade Center and killing innocent Americans in New York. Pakistani women in the villages came up to me and handed a batch of eggs, saying "Bring these eggs to those widows whose husbands got killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11." Parade Magazine did a cover story about "He Fights Terror With Books" [April 6, 2003]. Our organization Central Asia Institute received $1 million in contributions after that article. The strength of this country is in its diversity instead of commonality.

Q: What are your goals in the next five years?
A: I like Joseph Campbell's remark "When you heart speaks, take good notes." We are now focused in getting girls from the remote villages to school. We put up eight schools in the Wakhan Corridor. We are recruiting local people in intensive training to teach the children.

Q: Is there a local economy in these villages?
A: There are poultry farms and forestry to make money. The infrastructure there is supporting war between India and Pakistan. The International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) is a rural development organization that helps local people to develop enterprises. They established eel farming in Bangladesh.

Q: Are there any embarrassment that the government is not doing their job?
A: Their Education Minister boasted "We have schools in every district." But they've never even gone to those remote rural areas to check the illiteracy and poverty conditions there. Now, the Pakistan military is supporting our efforts.

Q: What about nutrition in these villages?
A: There is a huge protein deficiency in their diet. The people in the South Balti region have more vegetation where as in the North region less so due to the amount of sunshine they get.

Q: Can you travel to Pakistan at any time?
A: I got a page of my passport torn out by the Taliban. I got a 5-year visa from Pakistan and a 10-year U.S. passport.

Q: Do you bring volunteers to the villages?
A: Teachers come from within the villages. Most are women. We need to grow more master teachers locally.

Q: How much does it cost to build a school there?
A: $15,000-$20,000 to build a school. $35,000-$50,000 to build a school after to fund it with teachers afterwards. It is my hope that the royalties from our book Three Cups of Tea will generate enough income to set up an endowment to pay the local teachers in these schools.

The Q & A session ended at 9 pm.


Book Reviews of Three Cups of Tea:
Three Cups of Tea (
   By Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
   Viking Press, New York (2006), 352 pp.
Three Cups of Tea
   About the Book— Brief summary & blurbs from the back cover
Three Cups of Tea
   Collection of Book Review from Newspapers & the Press
Three Cups of Tea    By Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
People Magazine, Critic's Choice: Three Cups of Tea
   Reviewed By Maria Speidel, People Magazine, March 20, 2006
   "This is one protagonist who clearly deserves to be called a hero."
Three Cups of Tea
   By Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
   Introduction from the book (ABC News, March 8, 2006)

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

About CAI
   (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)
Upcoming Events
   (Three Cups of Tea, Educational Outreach, Past Events, FAQ)

News Stories on Greg Mortenson:
Climber builds schools in uphill fight against terrorism
   (By John Flinn, San Francisco Chronicle, March 19, 2006)
   (Since Aziza received her maternal health care training and returned
   to her village in 2000, not one woman has died in childbirth, and the
   infant mortality rate has gone down from 1 in 3 to about 1 in 5.)
Q&A with Greg Mortenson: A cross-cultural storyteller
   (By Sharon Schmickle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 12, 2006)
   ("And what really drives me is a hope we can leave a legacy of peace for our kids.")
One man's war on terrorism:
   A Roseville native writes of his work building schools.
   (By Bob Shaw, St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 7, 2006)
   (Greg Mortenson's schools have educated 20,000 children in Central Asia.)
"On pilgrimage, following spring"
   (By Ann Geracimos, Washington Times, March 5, 2006)
   (The challenges and how he faced them are ready-made for the movies or TV.)
Another Way to Stop Terroism
   (By Greg Mortenson, Parade, March 5, 2006)
   (Report on the October 8, 2005 Earthquake in Pakistan
   that killed 70,000 and left 2.8 million people homeless.)
Booster of Asian schools to receive peace award
   (By Donna Healy, Billings Gazette, Nov. 18, 2004)
   (Mortenson, 46, directs the Bozeman-based Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit
   agency dedicated to building rural schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.)
Greg Mortenson: A Mountaineer Sets Potential Terrorists on a Different Path
   (Men's Journal, October 2004)
   ("The mullahs don't fear guns. They fear the pen. They know
   that education will disempower the recruiting for terrorists."
Changing the World One Girl at a Time: Central Asia Institute
   (By Kelle Walsh, Imagine, Summer 2004 Premier Issue)
   (Mortenson: Educating women is the best investment for community sustainability.)
Education is Their Foundation
   (By Sharon Schmickle,, July 19, 2004)
   ("But if you educate a girl, you educate a community because
   she stays behind and instills her education in her children.")
The Infidel
   (By Kevin Fedarko, Rock & Ice Magazine, October 2003)
   ("There they were [girls], perched in the trees like little birds,
   and the thing I remember best was just the look on their faces:
   this eagerness— this wide-eyed look of enthusiasm.)
Climbers, travel buffs can take generosity to new heights
   (By John Finn, San Francisco Chronicle, May 25, 2003)
   (Sir Edmund Hillary's efforts in Nepal were the inspiration for Greg Mortenson)
He Fights Terror With Books
   (By Kevin Fedarko, Parade, April 6, 2003)
   [Rep. Mary Bono (R., Calif.), one of Mortenson's many supporters in Congress says:
   "His vision reinforces America's ideals of compassion. He is an American hero."]
To fight terror, Montanan builds schools in Asia
   (By Todd Wilkinson, Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 21, 2003)
   ("We can spend billions [of dollars] amassing a wall around America,
   but unless we invest even a small fraction of that amount building
   bridges of peace and understanding, all our efforts will be in vain.")
In The Northwest: We used bombs at Tora Bora, now we need books
   (By Joel Connelly, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Dec. 27, 2002)
   (Mortenson talked with young Taliban. "All, without exception,
   said they had gone on jihad— not to fight America but
   because theywere uneducated, illiterate and without jobs.")
NPR Interview with Greg Mortenson
   (By Terry Gross, Fresh Air Show, Feb. 7, 2002)
   ("I think in many ways, the enemy is our own ignorance and
   also that we need to accept we're part of a global society.")
A sure way to dry up the Taliban's manpower pool
   (By Joel Connelly, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Nov. 7, 2001)
   (Bin Laden would not have any support were it not for the poverty
   and illiteracy that is widespread through Central Asia)
What can one person do? The answer is: A lot
   (By John Finn, San Francisco Examiner, March 7, 1999)
   (Greg Mortenson's efforts in building children's schools in Pakistan)

If you enjoyed Greg's Talk, please
Buy Greg Mortenson's new book
Three Cups of Tea at
Donate to Central Asia Institute
for the noble work he's doing.
— Peter Y. Chou,

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email: (3-23-2006)