I found this book and author so inspiring that in order to do them justice, I felt compelled to share how I first became aware of the author and my response to hearing the author speak and reading the book.
In 2003, there was a Parade magazine article about a man named Greg Mortenson, who had founded an organization, the Central Asia Institute, that had built 28 school buildings in a remote area of Pakistan. In this article, he made the following statement regarding the war on terrorism. “If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs.” I remember reading that article and being so impressed with what this man had been able to accomplish. I was not alone – the response to the article was overwhelming.
In 2008, a friend invited me to attend a book talk featuring Greg Mortenson, the author of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea. During the talk (and in his book), he explained how he had literally stumbled into what had become his full-time mission when he became ill during an attempt to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world, and ended up in Korphe, a tiny village in remote Pakistan, where he was nursed back to health. While there, he learned that to establish a trusting relationship with someone in this part of the world, you have to take the time to share three cups of tea with them. During his recuperation, he had been impressed by the village children’s fierce desire to learn. Although the impoverished village could not afford a school teacher, the children would gather in an area to do lessons by writing in the dirt with sticks. Out of gratitude for the kindness the villagers had shown him, Mortenson decided to build them a school for their village and provide them with the funds to pay for a school teacher. The completion of the Korphe school resulted in more requests from other villages for schools of their own and thus was born the Central Asia Institute, dedicated to raising awareness of the need for education, especially for girls, in these remote regions and raising money to build the schools and pay for teachers. Three Cups of Tea recounts the many challenges that Mortenson had to overcome to raise funds and get the schools built. The Parade magazine article generated such a response in terms of letters, e-mails, and monetary donations that the CAI was able to expand their efforts. By the time, Three Cups of Tea was published in 2006, 55 school buildings had been built and staffed.
Though Mortenson is not a dynamic speaker, I was very moved by his story and by his dedication to providing educational opportunities to children, especially girls. When he returned to Kansas City in 2009 to promote the YA book version of Three Cups of Tea and the picture book, Listen to the Wind: the Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea, both of which are based on his first book, I took my grade-school age daughters to hear him speak. I wanted them to learn, among other things, about how the educational opportunities that they take for granted are so rare and valued in many parts of the world. And I wanted them to hear about what a positive difference one person can make.
If you want to hear some positive stories from a part of the world where our military is currently waging a war against terrorism, if you want to read about the many lives that have been improved because of one man’s efforts, and if you find stories about the pursuit of selfless goals heartwarming, then you must read Three Cups of Tea.