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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

If there is one book you choose to read in 2008, let me recommend "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Relin. It is by far the BEST story I have read in a really long time. The book is all about Greg Mortenson's amazing journey to the Karakoram Mountains in Pakistan. Greg originally was there to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world, but after weeks of climbing he was too weak to go on. He was guided down the mountain by his Balti porter and they stumble into the remote mountain village of Korphe. It is in Korphe that Greg recuperates before heading back home to the States. During his stay, Greg marvels at the hospitality and kindness shown to him by the villagers - all this despite their insurmountable poverty and the harsh conditions in which they live. Greg finds out the village is so poor they do not have a school nor can they afford to pay the wages of a Pakistani teacher ($1.00 a week). But what really breaks Greg's heart is seeing a dozen or so children, huddled on the icy ground, learning their numbers by scratching on the earth with sticks. He vows to build Korphe a school.

Back in the States, he faces great odds in raising the funds needed to build a school. Greg is even forced to sell all his belongings and live in his car before finally receiving a donation to build the school. Fast forward a year later, Greg is back in Pakistan and still faces obstacle after obstacle in getting materials, transportation and permits needed for his school up in the mountains. He finally fulfills his promise and erects a 4-room school. But as he spends more time in the region - he finds himself wanting to do more, reach out to other villages, help more children. Through countless efforts (both local and abroad) he finally gets funding and establishes the Central Asian Institute (CAI). But it was never smooth sailing even then. Greg endured being kidnapped, butting heads with local religious leaders, even sitting down for tea with the Taliban. But he also met much success in reaching out to those who needed him. Today CAI has over 55 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and educates over 24,000 children till 5th grade and have set up scholarships for advanced studies. More than that they have built vocational centers for the women and training centers for the men in the villages. CAI has also assisted with community projects such as building bridges, water sanitation systems and bringing medical aid to these areas.

Greg's philosophy is that education is the key. The key to bettering the lives of villagers who rely on a hand-to-mouth existence, who have an alarming infant mortality rate, who are being taken advantaged of by the more powerful in society. But in the long run it is also the key to the war on terror that America is fighting in those regions. Greg believes that the war is not going to be won by bombs but rather by books. I totally agree. After all a message that is sent thru violence and destruction only fosters fear and hatred. There can be no rationale for senseless destruction. When their villages and cities are bombed, children grown up to fear and to hate their attackers, and are easily brainwashed into taking revenge. How can the world be a safer place when we fight violence with violence? But a solid education can move mountains. Teaching children and giving them a chance to better themselves will counter ignorance and growing hatred. It is the long-term but steadfast way to end the pervasive threat of terrorism. One of my favorite lines in the book is "education is giving them a chance to choose life over death".

The story was so inspiring to me. I normally breeze through books but this one I really wanted to savor. I read and re-read sections, looked at the inset of pictures trying to identify names and faces, and even referred to maps of Pakistan and the Baltisan region over and over again to understand where this was all happening. I really have to hand it to Greg Mortenson. He is a true American hero. He truly epitomizes what it means to live your life to the fullest and be of service to others. People always ask what can they do to make the world a better place. Greg Mortenson shows us this is what one man can do. And although he claims that what he does is only one drop in the ocean, the fact is the ocean will still be missing water without that one drop.

Greg's story and the continuing mission of CAI is not just something that's "nice to know" but "later forgotten". It should make us realize that life is too short not to live to the fullest but at the same time it is also too short for us not to do anything to make this world a better place. We may not be humanitarians like Greg who can travel to far-off places to save the world, but we can make a difference in our corners of the world. Even small acts of kindness can be one more drop in the ocean.

In the Acknowledgments Section of the book, Greg asks for people to help and there are several ways listed on how to do that. One of the things he has asked is to purchase the book (proceeds go to CAI) and also to donate the book to public libraries. Since the more we get the message out there, the better. And also, since there are so many libraries with depleted book copies there is a "line" of about 7 people on average waiting to read the book. I was so moved and touched by this story that I will be ordering copies of Greg's book and donating it to all the public libraries in Torrance. Stories like these need to be told, it's the very least I can do.

For more information on the book, please click here. For more information on the Central Asian Institute, please click here.

1 comment:

jol said...

An excellent book review that exemplifies the motto "a man for others".