Monday, April 7, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

This is a pretty amazing story.

Three Cups of Tea is the true story of Greg Mortenson, who upon failing to summit K2 stumbles quite ill and emaciated into Korphe, a remote village in Pakistan. The people of this village nurse him back to health, and he falls in love with them. During his stay, he asks to visit the school, and is brought to a large field where 84 children were writing in the dirt with sticks. No teacher, no books, just the children studying as best they could. The village leader, Haji Ali, explained that they couldn't afford to pay a teacher, so a teacher comes to the village occasionally, and the children study on their own the rest of the time. Greg promises to come back to Korphe and build the village a school. And he does.

There is so much to say about the work that Mortenson does. He is the director of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which (as of 2007) has established more than 61 schools in rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. After he learns that providing girls with at least a 5th grade education will help prevent infant mortality, population explosion, and overall health and sanitation of a village, he began focusing more towards (though not exclusively) girl's education. He also helps fund projects for clean water and women's halls (where all the local women can get together to sew, etc). He figures that with the unhealthy water that they have now, one in three children don't even make it to their first birthday in these villages. You can't educate someone that isn't there.

I had the opportunity to hear Mortenson speak at a local event this past week. He seems like an honest, humble man doing what he can to help people he loves. He really isn't in this for the "glory." He showed a picture of a school, and said that he was proud of this school because it had taken almost 8 years to convince the local leaders to allow it to be built. He is in it for the long term and he is willing to learn the customs and mores of the area he is in order to build a school that they will be proud of and use.

Mortenson also had a lot of interesting facts about the importance of education in these areas. He said that people that decide to be suicide bombers are without hope. They see no other way of succeeding in life. By providing an education to people in rural areas, they are given some hope. He also talked about former members of the Taliban that he works with (four are teachers in his school), and all of them joined the Taliban for the money. They were given a signing bonus and after six months of service something like $200. They didn't feel they had any other choice.

It's truly a fascinating read. This one man has had such a positive effect on thousands of lives.

The one thing that I didn't like about this book is the writing. First of all, it's written in third person, which is not what I was expecting, considering the main character is listed as the first author. But, even without that little complaint, the writing really isn't that great. It sometimes takes a long time to say simple things and that can get really frustrating. There are also a lot of non-English words used throughout, and not all of them are fully explained. Possibly they are terms that everyone should know, but I didn't, and it got a little frustrating trying to figure some of them out.

However, even with this small(ish) complaint, I highly recommend the book. It gives you lots of food for thought and would make a great discussion book for a book club.

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