This summer I read Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School At A Time and Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, both by Greg Mortenson. These books, that tell his story of building girls schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are some of the more inspiring that I’ve ever read. Once I started, I couldn’t put them down.
So when I found out that Mortenson was speaking at the SDSU college campus an hour from where I live, I had to go hear him. Mortenson (pictured here reading to Pakistani girls in a submitted photo) addressed an estimated 5,000 people about the importance of giving everyone in the world the opportunity to be educated, especially girls.
His message was similar to the column Nickolas Kristof wrote last month titled “Dr. Greg and Afghanistan.” To the crowd Mortenson said that U.S. military leaders understand that there is no military solution to Afghanistan and he wondered how we came to rely on the military to solve all of our global problems. For the cost of keeping 248 American soldiers in Afghanistan for one year ($248 million), Mortenson said we could fund the entire Afghan education system. Which sounds like a better foreign policy to you?
He was passionate about the impact that educating girls could have on the rest of the world and as the father of three girls myself, it really hit home. But to me, the most inspiring thing about Greg Mortenson is his personal story. When he saw a need for girls schools in Pakistan, he didn’t look for someone else to build them. He didn’t ask for government support. He simply started building schools and people started supporting him when they saw how successful he was. As of 2009, his Central Asia Institute had established 130 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, providing education to over 51,000 students, with an emphasis on girls’ education. Even though the Taliban have destroyed thousands of schools in that region of the world, the CAI schools were unharmed due to their emphasis on involving local villagers. He’s twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and I think it’s just a matter of time before he wins it.
His life story is an incredibly powerful message about the force for good that one person can be in the world. It’s one we would all do well to learn from.