Three Cups of Tea

CupsFor once I’m on the book band wagon. Duluth’s One Book read this spring is Three Cups, and there have been discussion groups at LSC (one of which I’ve attended), plus Greg Mortenson himself is speaking here in a week or so and Sherry and I have tickets (courtesy of Stacy Johnston and LSC CTL, thank you), so I really feel like I’m in the middle of something important. Mortenson’s work is important, and it is what it’s all about.

Sherry read Three Cups last summer, made me want to read it, and then gave it away before I got to it. The truth is, it’s the kind of book that you want to give away because it’s that good.  It’s the story of this sort of bumbling guy, Greg Mortenson, who by chance commits himself to a rather small but impossible vision of building one school for the children of the isolated village of Korphe, Pakistan, that has now grown to hundreds of schools in the Northern Areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan that are providing a balanced education, mostly for girls, contrasting the fundamentalist Islamic jihadist madrasas schools in the same region that have been the incubator for Al Quada and the Taliban.

There are probably several keys to Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute’s success, but what stands out to me is Mortenson’s commitment to local control and advisement by the Pakistani and Afghani people.  He had to learn it the hard way, but it’s their stake in the process that make CAI’s work legitimate and not colonial.  There’s American money behind it, but it would just be more Americans saving the world without that local stake.  Instead, it’s Pakistani and Afghani people empowered to fight their own poverty and stem the violent forces that would use that poverty for its own murderous purposes.

The other key is Mortenson’s humility.  The human condition is such that power and success so often are accompanied by temptation and delusion (see latest example), but so far he seems to be what he appears to be.  I’m really looking forward to hearing him speak next week.

The books has renewed my belief in the power of a few people to affect meaningful change in the world.  It can and is happening, and I, for one, hope to get more involved.  Stay tuned.

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