Beliefnet
Greg Mortenson with Pakistani childrenIn 1993, mountain-climber Greg Mortenson nearly lost his life trying to climb one of the world’s highest mountains, K2 in northern Pakistan. Reeling from his failed attempt, Mortenson stumbled into the village of Korphe in Pakistan’s Karakoram Himalaya region.

There he saw children huddled in the cold wind, scratching out lessons with sticks in the hard ground. He was inspired and impetuously made a promise to the village’s leader, Haji Ali: I will build you a school. That promise took him to rock bottom and back again as he despaired while living in his car to save money for the school until a generous benefactor set him on his way. His remarkable odyssesy reflects the astounding humanitarian reach that one person can generate.
 
Greg Mortenson Talks About:
  • The Need for Girls' Education
  • The Cost of Global Illiteracy
  • The Worst Threats He Ever Got
  • Why the Children Are the Heroes
     
    Mortenson has traveled the seemingly impenetrable paths of rural Pakistan, fighting the elements, poverty, fatwas against him from corrupt mullahs, death threats from Americans who consider him a traitor for helping Muslim children, separation from his family, and a terrifying kidnapping to make true on his promise.

     Mortenson’s book, “Three Cups of Tea,” is the inspiring story of his journey from the completion of that first school to his position as the director of the Central Asia Institute, which has since built 55 schools serving Pakistan and Afghanistan’s poor children, especially girls.

     

    It’s been more than 10 years since you first started your project to build a school in the Pakistani village of Korphe. Are you satisfied with what has been accomplished so far?
     
    The more I do this, I feel I’m very blessed. And I feel my life is very rich, because I can go between two different cultures [the U.S. and Pakistan] and people of different backgrounds. And everywhere I go I find there are good people. We fail to appreciate the fact that we can be optimists. We’re very pessimistic now.
     
    Americans need to form bridges and have relationships with the moderate Muslim majority who are our greatest allies there. And I also hear Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders all saying, “God is on our side.” Actually, God is on the side of the widow and the orphan and the refugee. But most of all we need to take care and have compassion and love those who need that the most.
     
    What is it that makes you different from all the Americans who have been to Pakistan, who make promises--diplomats and humanitarians and climbers--and they don’t keep them?
     
    The Need for Girls' Education
    I think I was fortunate that I had my childhood in Tanzania, East Africa. It was a very rich, pluralistic, diverse environment, where I went to school with children of all faiths and backgrounds, and for me that was a normal way to live. When I came back to the States at the end of high school, I was exposed for the first time to bigotry and racism and intolerance.

     I joined the military, actually, because we didn’t have any money to go to college. And it was very difficult for me to make that transition. And I think today we are less bilingual. People stress in schools less geography, less social studies, and that’s imperative to living in a global society today. Because we’re so connected.

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