Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Three Cups of Tea

For me, vacation is often about reading books, and this vacation was no exception. This time the main read was "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

Mortenson, an avid mountaineer who became ill while attempting to climb K2 in Pakistan in 1993, fell in love with a Pakistani village that showed him enormous generosity, promising to return and build a school for the girls in that impoverished mountain community. More than a dozen years later, Mortenson's Central Asia Institute has built and/or supported scores of schools (mostly for girls), trained women in vocational centers and programs, funded projects involving sanitation, water filtration, cataract surgery, and infant oral rehydration training, and provided earthquake relief for the impoverished people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

When Mary and I traveled to rural eastern Jamaica some years ago, we were similarly moved by the poverty we witnessed, and subsequently partnered with a US-based NGO to provide a three-year community development project focusing on education, sanitation, and hygiene. But our energy and the sustainability of the project was self-limited, and it is people like Mortenson who truly make a difference by creating sustainable, culturally appropriate programs which directly impact both quality of life and community well-being. In Mortenson's view, building schools to educate girls, providing vocational training for women, and decreasing preventable infant mortality is more key to the so-called War on Terror than any military endeavor of the past, present, or future. It's no wonder that the subtitle of Three Cups of Tea is "One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time."

For its occasional literary flaw or editing glitch, Three Cups of Tea far makes up for its failings due to its crystal-clear message. In my mind, there is truly no argument against the notion that education is the key to peace, health, and prosperity, and Greg Mortenson has inspired me to again seek avenues through which my presence in the world can more fully repay the debt of my existence.
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