Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stones into Schools - Greg Mortenson

A few years ago I read and was deeply inspired by Greg Mortenson's first book, Three Cups of Tea, about his organization, Central Asia Institute, and their efforts to establish schools (mostly for girls) in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet, when I saw that he had published this second book, I didn't find myself rushing to read it. And, I'm not sure why - maybe because I thought it would just be more of the same - another 500 pages about the difficulties of getting through to people who believe that young women have no place in a classroom, the hardships of transporting materials to build the schools to such remote regions, the danger of challenging foreign governments and the Taliban. Or, maybe I just didn't want to be reminded that there are people out there who are so selflessly dedicated to literacy, peace, and young girls, while I sit at home and just read about them. Whatever the case, I did finally pick this one up - and from the first page of Khaled Hosseini's introduction to Mortenson's own epilogue, my eyes were filled with tears and my heart simply full from the wonder and amazement of the work being done by the people of CAI, and those they work with in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. The book is a continuation of the work described in Three Cups of Tea, with a focus on a single school that took over a decade to build, as Mortenson describes the various barriers to achieving his ultimate goal of literacy and access to education for all children, but particularly young girls. The statistics throughout the book are staggering, but I was particularly touched by Mortenson's continual reminder of an African proverb that says something along the lines of - "Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community." Mortenson's message is a testament to the power that women hold in their communities - and the reason why the Taliban and other leaders seek to prevent the education of young girls. Some of the most amazing moments in the book come in realizing what men in these regions who work with Mortenson are putting on the line to educate their girls and better their own countries. Mortenson also shares a lot in this book about his own limitations - the sacrifices he has made in terms of losing time with his own children, how much he relies on the support and encouragement of his wife, and how he is not cut out for the fundraising and literary appearances that are now demanded from him. This book is a reminder (one that can be frustrating) that we can and should all be doing more - it doesn't have to be a complete life sacrifice to a calling like Mortenson - it can be just one more hour of volunteer work a week or one more check we write to an organization close to our hearts. It can even be just taking the time to read this book, to get educated, and to value the opportunities we often take for granted.

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