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Life Arts

Education for Peace: Greg Mortenson

By       Message Suzana Megles     Permalink
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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H3 1/6/09

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I would have been very cross with myself today if I had failed to tape this
CBS Sunday Morning program (1/4/09) as I did last week.  Because our
liturgy starts at 9:30, I always try to make sure that I tape it because they
often produce great episodes.  Today was such a day and I was so pleased
to see Greg Mortenson being interviewed re his humanitarian efforts for
the children of a mountainous region of Pakistan and Afganistan.

His story is remarkable and he reminded me of Mother Teresa, that like her-
in his great faith in himself, he would keep a promise made to the people of
a little village in northern Pakistan.  His story starts with the telling of the
untimely 1992 death of his younger 23-year-old sister Christa from severe
epilepsy.  In 1993 this 36-year-old ER Nurse living in San Francisco decided
that in her memory he wanted to plant her African amber necklace on K2- the
world's second highest mountain in the Karakoram range of Northern Pakistan.
After more than 70 days on the mountain, Greg and three other climbers
interrupted their ascent to engage in a 75-hour life-saving rescue of a fifth
climber.  After the rescue, Mortenson gave up his quest to conquer the
mountain because the rescue had depleted his energies.  Weak and exhausted,
he walked 58 miles before coming by chance to Korphe, a small village built
on a shelf jutting out from a canyon.

These villagers- short in stature as compared to this "giant" American,
welcomed him to their village and shared what little they had with him.
Finally, he recuperated and regained his strength and was ready to return
home when he said he had an eureka moment which would change his life
forever.  Very grateful for their kind hospitality, he promised to build them
a school when he returned. 

I laughed when I realized that he would start out to do this like anyone of us
who has little or no monetary resources.  He decided to write the celebrities--
actors, sports people, etc.  Picture him at a typewriter-- hand-typing 580 letters
starting with Dear Mr. Stallone or Dear Mr. Jordan.  It took him 10 weeks to do
this.  Though I one time wrote to over 600 American Bishops requesting a
compassionate teaching for the animals, I was able to xerox my letter- but
still found the task time-consuming and tiring.  HE HAND-TYPED EACH
LETTER.  Now that's true dedication in trying to fulfill a promise.  I received
10 responses for my effort, time, and money. Mortenson received NADDA.

I would imagine the faint-hearted would have given up - but not Mortenson.
One day he visited his mother's school in River Falls, Wisconsin where she was
principal and asked to speak to the fourth graders.  They were so inspired by
his story that they colleced $623.40 in PENNIES.  (This endeavor continues to
this day and is called "Pennies for Peace.")   When the parents saw the concern
of their children, they began donating as well, and he was able to go back to
Korphe with $12,000.   Again-thoughts of Mother Teresa.  Here this man with a
big heart but little or no money was on his way to fulfilling a promise made. 
It took him a year but he was ready to face the villagers again. 

Back in Korphe, he encountered a stumbling block.  The Mayor said before they
could build a school, they needed a bridge, and that meant more money needed
to be raised.  Undaunted, he returned home, and by year's end he had $10,000
more for a bridge.  In 1995 it took the villagers 10 weeks to build a 284 ft. span
bridge and then work finally began for a school.  

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(On Wikipedia- Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer helped Greg with his
school projects.  Before he died, he co-founded with Mortenson the Central
Asia Institute, endowing the CAI to build schools in rural Pakistan and

Mortensen soon decided that his schools should be used to educate girls as
well.  His reasons: providing a girl with a fifth grade education would bring
infant mortality down.  Also, an educated mother is much less likely to support
terrorism when her son comes to her for her essential blessing.  Mortensen
maintains that "fighting terrorism" only perpetuates a cycle of violence.  Rather,
he says, we should be promoting peace through education and literacy, especially
for the girls.  And ultimately, he believes education will help women have the
right to land ownership and inheritance. 

Aside from the challenges to raise funds for the building of more than 78
schools in Taliban territory, he faced death threats from Islamic Mullahs
and was even kidnapped by Taliban sympatizers.  I don't know how he escaped
them, but if you have read "Three Cups of Tea" which in 2002 had been on
the New York's best seller list for 100 weeks, you certainly know the answer. 

This is a small preview of this wonderful man's life whose ancesters came from
Norway.  I love to mention ethnicity because each group should take pride in
the accomplishments of its members.  As a result, Norwegians I'm sure are proud
of Greg Mortenson and his work to promote peace through education.  And, of
course, as Americans we are proud of him as well.  When not in Central Asia,
he and his family live in Montana.

I was taken by the title of his book for young adults entitled  "Three Cups of Tea."
The title comes from a Balti proverb:
     "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger.  The second
time you take tea, you are an honored guest.  The third time you share a cup
of tea, you become family..."
A great proverb.  However, the tea that Mortenson drank was not always great.
Despite his childhood which had made him familiar with exotic cultures, he
sometimes struggled to drink a foul-smelling butter tea offered him.  Of course,
he probaby viewed this as only one of many sacrifices he would endure to promote
education in the cause of peace. 

What a wonderful concept - Education instead of war.  Great idea and a wonderful
start.  I hope it catches on with the United Nations and all the freedom-loving
people and nations of the world.  Thank you Greg Mortenson for your wonderful
efforts.  May your work proliferate and bear many fruits of peace.     

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