Thank You, Greg
A Pakistan Link Tribute

Greg Mortenson is one man who is making a positive difference in our part of the world.

Earlier this year Pakistan Link covered an event in Santa Clara, California, a huge fundraiser for the Central Asia Institute (https://www.ikat.org/) or CAI a Bozeman, Montana based  organization led by Greg with a winning motto “Peace and Hope Begin With Education: One Child At A Time”.  Its mission is to promote education, especially for young girls, in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in this quest it has already built 168 schools there. Greg is already famous for authoring the book “ Three Cups of Tea,” a runaway bestseller that details his own experiences whle interacting with the poor people of that area. Another book, “Stones into Schools,” has now been added to the list.  And if anyone has not had a chance to read the book “Three Cups of Tea”, it is still highly recommended reading.

There are still a few places in the world where such stories are possible. Thankfully, the US is one of them. America is still fighting a war in Afghanistan and has a more limited role in parts of Pakistan, neither of which is popular in the region. But at the same time, we have Greg Mortenson’s CAI adding a peaceful community based campaign to fight a war against ignorance in the region, one which is already paying dividends and increasing America’s stature there. Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and the Commander of US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, General Petraeus have read Three Cups of Tea (it appears that their respective wives suggested that they do so). Some believe that the essence of this book could be a possible game-changer for the region.

The expression “Peace on Earth” gets a great deal of use during the holiday season. It offers people hope for the future even though the passing year may have been marred by war and tragedy. History marches on and sacrifices have to be made to protect our way of life. We are proud of our people in uniform in both America and Pakistan and express our gratitude for the sacrifices that they have made. But we also cannot overlook individuals like Greg Mortenson who are also making a difference there using completely different methods and really helping the cause of freedom in the process.

Three reasons for Greg’s success in what he has set out to do have been recently described by Oscar winning actress Helen Hunt as humility, patience and perseverance.

Greg Mortenson’s  attempt to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world, in Pakistan, his failure to reach its peak plus his harrowing experience on its descent, his arrival in the poor village of Korphe, his meeting with Haji Ali, and the hospitality shown to him there have become the book “Three Cups of Tea”. His promise to help build a school for the village folk and his subsequent attempts to raise funds in the US are worthy of praise. The fact that ordinary people in both Pakistan and the US can relate to him and his work makes us really think. The “ Three Cups of Tea” story and the movement which has followed since, including the “Pennies for Peace” effort in American schools, has certainly brought out the best in people.   

It is also noteworthy that Greg’s attempts at bringing peace through education have reached the highest levels of leadership in the United States . “It is great to help people. What is really important is that we empower people,” he had said recently.   

Explaining why militants in the region have been attacking girls schools, he added that they were afraid of the power of knowledge and the pen. He believes that there was no clear military solution to the situation in Afghanistan.   

One could go on, but basically Greg Mortenson believes that like other places in the world, people in Afghanistan and Pakistan desire a better life for themselves and their families. But ignorance fueled violence and a lack of the right mechanism for implementing change remains a problem. What Greg has brought to the table is his ability to communicate and to look beyond stereotypes. He has successfully dipped into the basics of mutual respect and appreciation of other cultures by treating poor people with dignity. Ultimately, we can all learn a great deal by going back to these basics.

The year 2010 draws to a close and the holiday season is already very much on our minds. For us first generation immigrants from Asia, the question will be repeated once again; “Do you celebrate Christmas?” The answer is quite easy. “Yes, and we celebrate Christmas and all other holidays too, especially those that bring people together (from Thanksgiving onwards).” Our turkey recipes may be different with lots of cayenne pepper added and we may not have a Christmas tree. But who can ignore this season and not get caught up in its spirit in America?  Peace on Earth one school at a time, Happy Holidays and our thanks to Greg Mortenson, our Man of the Year.   

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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