A Man for All Nations
Next to Sir Thomas More (Man for All Seasons), the man I admire most has to be mountain-climber-turned school construction planner Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea (Penguin, 2007). This book moved me more than any nonfiction I’ve read in the last quarter century; every congressman, CIA operative, presidential candidate and just plain American should read it!
Mortenson’s book presents a simple answer to this question: How can we fight terrorism and live to tell about it? His method is to go into small poverty-stricken villages in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikstan, etc. and educate the children--especially young girls, who are excluded from most government-run schools.
Three Cups of Tea is the story of how this philosophy/philanthropy was born, and it is not only riveting but, for me at least, attitude-changing. There IS something an individual can do about the state of the world!
Mortenson was a mountain climber. During an attempt on K2 in northern Pakistan, he got separated from his climbing partner and Pakistani bearer and wandered, fuzzy-headed at 19,000 feet until he finally collapsed.
When he didn’t show up at the base camp, the bearer searched and finally found him on the mountain, half-frozen and comatose. The man dragged and pushed Mortenson down the mountain to his small village, settled him in his mud-hut, wrapped him in a blanket, and offered a mug of yak-butter tea. Mortenson remembers the brew as the most vile and the most blessed concoction his tongue had ever encountered, but he credits the three mugs the Pakistani villager made him drink with saving his life.
Grateful for the care he received for the next few weeks from the poor but generous-hearted villagers, Mortenson wanted to return their kindness but wondered what he could do? One morning he found some children drawing letters in the dirt because they had no school.
Mortenson flew back to the U.S., saved up $12,000 working as an ER nurse, then returned to “his” Pakistani village high in the mountains with lumber and building supplies for a school. The photo at the left (shot by Mortenson) shows village men laying the foundation.
When it was completed, he hired a teacher from Islamabad to teach not Islamic or Christian precepts but “the basics” of reading, writing, and math. The teacher is paid $1 per day. Most important, the school is nonsectarian and coed: it does not exclude girls, as do most government-run schools in the larger cities.
Word of this first school spread, and shortly another village high up in the remote mountains of northern Pakistan wanted to build a school. And another... and then another. Greg Mortenson, the mountain climber from Bozeman, Montana, had found his calling in life.
Mortenson himself is tall (6'5"), well-built, athletic, and shy. His sincerity and honesty wins the regard of the Pakistanis, and he is still scraping up money and building schools in remote regions. Now he heads the Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit organization, which he founded to fund these ventures: P.O. Box 7209, Bozeman, MT 59771. firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ikat.org.