Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Go Read This Book!

If you are looking for a good read, go buy Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. I just finished it last night and it is such an amazing story.

Greg Mortenson is an American mountain climber who spent time in a remote village Pakistan after an attempt to climb K2. He befriended the people there and wanted to do something to return their hospitality to him. Mortenson noticed that they had no school building. The students met outside, shared a teacher with other villages, and attempted to learn arithmetic and writing by scratching numbers and letters in the dirt with sticks. He resolved to find a way to build them a school. He returned home to the US, raised money, and launched what soon became a career of philanthropic work building and staffing schools, especially schools for girls, in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The story is incredibly inspirational because of the extraordinary obstacles that Mortenson has overcome and because of the unwavering dedication he has to his work. He lived out of his car for months, just to save money to get him back to Pakistan to build that first school. In that first village, he first had to figure out how to build a bridge to the village to even get the supplies to them to build the school. He has had to coordinate building efforts in places that have no phones or electricity and whose roads are out for months due to weather. He has had to win over hostile forces and religious groups and learn to function in a culture that is so very different from his own. He now is a loved and revered man, in a part of the world where few Americans can feel safe.

What is also so compelling about the story is that it is stunningly clear in reading this account that the only real way that the US can fight terror and Islamic fundamentalism is through education and economic aid. I learned something I had never read before about the state of education in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Back in 90's, Saudi Arabian fundamentalist groups sent money and men to Pakistan and Afghanistan to set up madrassas. Madrassas are the fundamentalist Islamic schools that train terrorists. The Saudis choose Pakistan and Afghanistan to do this in, in part because they knew that both these countries have no real national school system. Their governments are so poor that they can not afford to build schools everywhere they are needed. Furthermore, the majority of the populations can not afford to send their children to distant private schools and they are desperate that their children recieve some type of formal education. So, the Saudis swept in, established these cheap madrassa schools and people flocked to them because it was the only way their children could go to school. The teachers at the madrassas are often barely literate themselves. The schools are simply a front for fundamentalist training.

To make all this even worse, the schools chose the best and brightest of their pupils and send them back to Saudi Arabi or on for further "training", indoctrinating them in hate even further and then order them to return to their homeland and marry four wives and have as many children as possible to carry on the teachings. It is terrifying. This would have never been possible if these countries had vigorous educational systems in place.

And the people do truely want education. The men of the first village where he built the school actually carried roof beams and building supplies on their backs for 18 miles because a road was out. They walked 18 miles overnight just to get to the supplies, strapped them to their backs, and then walked 18 miles back home, carrying the supplies, a lucky few in tennis shoes, but many barefoot or with shoes made from animal hides. They weren't paid for this. They did it because it was the only way to get a school building for their children. These people want the schools.

One of Mortenson's agency's programs is Pennies for Peace and is suitable for schools to use to help raise money for his work. American children like it because they know they are helping raise money to help other children, just like them. I think I may start it up in my classroom next year.


Bill in Chicago said...

This all sounds very nice, and none of it the least bit objectionable. However, I think it raises another question - what about the Saudis? In fact, their meddling in Pakistan and Afghanistan is just the tip of the iceberg:


If 9/11 was an act of war, then Saudi Arabia is the nation which perpetrated it. When do we start defending ourselves?

Molly said...

I absolutely agree.

jennifer h said...

Oh, you mean we're allowed to talk about Saudi Arabia now? I mean, since it WAS the country of origin for most of the 9/11 terrorists? Hmm, I don't remember the U.S. raining bombs down on the them after 9/11. Oh,yeah, the Bushes are VBF's with the Saudis...
(does that sound like a rant?)

I'm adding that book to my to-read list.

TC said...

Liz, I am glad you liked this book. It's one of my favorites from the last year and I introduced it to your mother. I think the thing that I found most striking about it was what a buffoon Mortensen was. And I mean that in the most non-critical way possible. The man had no political agenda and no actual concept of what it would take to accomplish his goal. He did it by sheer determination. Overcoming miscalculation after miscalculation. It is amazing. Also I liked the reasoning for the importance of educating girls. Because they'll stay in the village and raise the education level in that town. Great book.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation!