Stones into Schools

Posted on March 11, 2011


I sit and write this on the terrace of the Belgium Beer Café at Festival City having just been to hear Greg Mortenson at the book festival. The room was packed full of inspired Dubai’ites eager to listen to his words on Moving Mountains.

Greg first came to prominence with his book Three Cups of Tea which is about his quest to build schools in remote areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s a beautiful read and is written proof that with determination and passion, mountains can be moved. For those who don’t know, the title of the book is based on the proverb that says it takes three cups of tea over many months to cement a lasting relationship. During the first cup, you are strangers; with the second cup, you become friends; and by the third cup, you are regarded as family.

But back to today’s talk. Where do I start?

There are 120m kids in the world who are deprived of going to school. 70m or so of these are girls. Yet whist the statistics are just that, Greg manages to bring to life the reality of the situation; the images he conjures up and the words he speaks tell the real story … a story of communities plagued with war and conflict, sadness and loss.

In little over an hour, Greg spoke of so much, his story, what drove him to do what he does, his childhood in Tanzania, the death of his sister, his attempt at K2 (which he did with the wonderful Dan Mazur) but what will stay with me is this:

  • His first school, the Korphe School, which opened in 1996, was only 30km south of Kabul. His initial hesitation, that he wanted to help remote regions, not communities on the fringe of the city, quickly dissolved on seeing 80 or so kids packed like sardines into storage containers … their ‘classroom’ … all eager to learn. No-one’s passion for education exceeds those of the children themselves
  • It was here that he committed to building his first school. Returning to the US without any experience of fund-raising, his mother, a head mistress at an elementary school, organised a talk with a classroom of kids. What resulted was the Pennies for Peace programme, a schools fund-raising initiative that now reaches every corner of the globe. It is often not the celebrities, the movie stars or the sports icons that do the most … it’s the ordinary people who do extraordinary things to make a difference
  • He spoke of our innate desire to help people and the best way to help people is to empower them. At the root of empowerment is education. His focus has always been the education of girls. He gives compelling reasons to justify this and as an old proverb goes, ‘Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community’
  • A question raised was whether he ever becomes disillusioned with the enormity of the situation, the enormity of the work required to give all an education. He is after all just touching the tip of an iceberg. He replied that he is an eternal optimist, much like me then. By taking one stone at a time, bricks will be laid and schools will be built. And by leveraging at every opportunity, tremendous change will be made

As for the relevance of Greg’s talk with my blog? His remarkable commitment, in the same vein as the wonderful work of Children of the Mountain, the humbling efforts of the school I visited a few weeks ago in Helambu, the ongoing support of people like Dan Mazur ….. it all puts into perspective, a damning perspective, how lucky we are … we have the freedom, riches and tools to learn that most could never comprehend … and I write daily posts on such trivial matters compared to the basic rights of much of the world.

Greg concluded his talk, to great applaud, with a quote from Martin Luther King Junior;

‘Even if the world ends tomorrow

I will plant my seed today’

He believes that seed is education.

Do you?

If so, time to get planting ….

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