Greg Mortenson has been my hero ever since I read his book Three Cups of Tea. It seems impossible that anyone could not know who he is these days, as he is a tireless speaker and promoter of his cause, traveling all over the world to tell his story, but, in case you've been under a rock for the last year or so, my advice is to go to your nearest book store and find his book. General Petraeus makes it required reading for all of his soldiers these days. So should you.
Some of the story is already familiar to his audience; these are serious fans. We all listen to him tell his serendipitous tale of how he found his way down K2 after a failed climb, wandered into a tiny village, was cared for by that village, and promised to build them a school when he saw the children outside doing schoolwork in the dirt without a teacher. Since then, Greg's mission has been to educate the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially the girls. He sees education as the only way to stop war and terrorism, particularly the education of girls. Under Taliban rule, girls could not go to school; women could not even leave their homes in some cases, but as he became more involved in the lives of the people in those harsh countries, he discovered a real desire among the elders and the villagers that their children have the opportunity to learn to read and write, both boys and girls. Greg took it upon himself to bring education to these people. He founded the Central Asia Foundation to fund and build schools for villages that want to bring education to their country's young people.
Mortenson is just a regular guy - big guy who stalks around the stage as he talks and stops often to ask questions of the audience. He's a man on a mission, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He started out knowing nothing about what he was attempting to do. Now he is an articulate speaker with over 100 schools under his belt. His sincere humility captivates everyone in the room; he has to stop speaking several times because of applause, and when he finishes the prepared part of his talk, the entire place is on its feet. We clap until our hands hurt and then clap some more. The audience has been given the opportunity to write out questions for him to answer, and he patiently and thoughtfully answers each one. Afterwards, he will be signing his brand new book Stones into Schools, a continuation of his story that picks up right after the events of the first book. Throughout what must be an ordeal to a tired guy, he is cheerful and friendly.
Too exhausted from a very long day, I decide to opt out of standing in line, and my son and I exit into the rain and cold, warmed by this man's generosity of spirit and his commitment to peace through education. As an English teacher and a peace activist, I am inspired. My current writing classes revolve around the themes of war and peace, and I am now planning to add his books to the curriculum. I feel like I just had a religious experience.
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