Thursday, March 10, 2011

Our March Author: Greg Mortenson

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and PakistanThis month we are reading Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson. We've already discussed Three Cups of Tea, his first bestseller about building schools in Pakistan and we recommend you check out our previous related postsStones, which brings the school-building story forward into Afghanistan was released at almost the same time President Obama announced his plans to increase troop strength in Afghanistan in December 2009 so a discussion of the way forward in Afghanistan dominated interviews with the author, such as this one from On Point or try this Bill Moyer's interview.
 BILL MOYERS: How is your work going to be impacted by the fact that it's going on in a society where the war is being escalated?

Well, our work will go on whether or not the U.S. has military there or not in that we work so closely with the elders. With the deployment of troops there, I, I've got a lot of mixed feelings on it. The first thing is that when President Obama had nine meetings to ascertain or decide whether or not to deploy troops to Afghanistan, those meetings were held in secrecy, behind closed doors. There was no public debate. There was no congressional hearings. There was no media involved.

We can't run democracy in secrecy. And it doesn't matter whether it's George Bush or Obama. That was one of my main concerns is-it's a big decision. The other thing is that there was no consultation with the elders or the shura in Afghanistan. Every province has three to five dozen shura. And these are elders. They're poets. They're warriors. They're businessmen, a few women. And they're not elected, but they've kind of risen up through the ranks. And these to me are the real people with integrity and power in Afghanistan. So when this decision was made to deploy troops, none, there was no consultation with the troo-- with the elders. And they felt very marginalized by it because, you know, want to go into another country, we want to be able to at least have a part and a say in it. And it's not that difficult. You can do it at a district level, or local level, or at a national level. It's, you know, I think half of diplomacy is just showing up. You know, we've got to actually just show up and start to talk and then maybe we could get somewhere. 
NYT columnist Nick Kristof is a big fan. See Dr. Greg and Afghanistan and 1 Solider or 20 Schools? and the NYT's Elizabeth Bumiller explores Mortenson's relationship with the US military: Unlikely Tutor Giving Military Advice.  For a lighter perspective on Dr. Greg there is this interview from travelblog World Hum.
Not all of us are going to come back from a trip and start a foundation to fund education projects.
I hope not.

What do you recommend for the rest of us?
One of the things is to try to continue just one of your relationships that you made on your trip. Whether it’s a hotel worker or a guide, just keep in touch with somebody. I also think there are so many more travel companies that are giving five or 10 percent to local organizations. 
And maybe what you saw was very beautiful, but you probably also saw some things that were not too pleasant. I think we shouldn’t try to bury them. We should talk about those things, whether it’s child labor or slavery or environmental degradation. The power of one is very powerful.
Finally, if you do nothing else, just take in this page from the Central Asia Institute showing a map and growing list of all the schools which have been built in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And then for a glimpse of some of the children, watch this short Christiane Amanpour report from CNN.
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