Saturday, May 22, 2010

A *Must* Read...

Last Fall, I borrowed a book from my mother-in-law, Barb, called Three Cups of Tea. The book discusses the work of Greg Mortenson, a former mountaineer who, while attempting to climb K2 in Pakistan, stumbled into a small town called Korphe (KOR-FAY) and was nursed back to health by the villagers, who were extremely isolated from the outside world. This isolation also meant that the children and the adults of the village were largely uneducated and illiterate--yet, they strived for education. Greg made a promise that he would, somehow, come back to Pakistan and build a school for the children of Korphe. This endeavor launched the non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), that has subsequently built many schools all over the most rural regions of Pakistan. may be wondering why building schools in a foreign country makes for interesting reading. Well, it is not just that the people of Pakistan want to educate their children--they also want to educate their girls and provide a secular, non-extremist education. Greg Mortenson believes that the best way to combat terrorism in this country is by bringing education and, thus, hope, to the most remote areas of the country. It is through education, not bombs and war, that the War on Terror will be won. For instance, in many areas where the government has not funded schools, madrassas (or Islamic schools) funded by extremist groups have sprung up. Because the people in the areas are so eager for an education and this is their only option, their children are sent to these schools and are often indoctrinated with an extremist education--which fuels terrorism.

However, as much as I liked Three Cups of Tea, the book I really LOVED was the sequel, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Unlike the first book, which was co-authored and written in the third person, Stones into Schools was actually written by Greg Mortenson in the first person. In the second novel, Greg talks about his efforts, along with the "Dirty Dozen"--twelve men from Pakistan and Afghanistan who work for the CAI--to build schools in the war-torn country of Afghanistan, where the infrastructure is basically gone and the Taliban are still rampant.
This book goes beyond building schools to limit terrorism--it also discusses the broader idea of what it means to educate a woman. In the novel, Greg discusses the "Girl Effect," which goes by the idea that, if you "educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a community." This may sound very feminist but he offers some very real and important examples. First of all, the women who acquire at least a fifth grade education raise their lifetime earnings significantly and, if they go on in their education, especially if they seek an education in maternal health care, the infant mortality rate and death during childbirth goes down dramatically. Also, women who are receiving an education are more likely to put off pregnancy until they are finished with school, which means they have fewer children, slowing population growth.
Moreover, in the Muslim world, it is not uncommon for sons to seek their mothers' approval before joining extremist groups. According to Mortenson, as a rule, educated women/mothers almost always say no. So--by educating a woman, it is much more likely that her family will not join an extremist group.
The CAI also discusses how they operate differently from a "typical" NGO. Instead of starting in a heavily populated area and working their way out, the CAI goes backwards--they start with the most rural areas and work their way in. This allows the most isolated and, often, deprived, communities to receive schools first.
The book, on the whole, is an excellent read that I definitely recommend to anyone who would like a different look and approach at the war on terror. It is a story about building relationships, respecting differences, and, most importantly, a story about hope that true change can occur in a country that has been at war in some shape or form for decades.

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