Greg The ‘Regular Guy, Crazy’ Humanitarian
Hello, i wanted to share a little story[that’s how it started] from a “regular guy”.
Greg Mortenson a Philanthropist/Author/former Nurse/former mountaineer was on The Interview 19 July and that’s where i got to pick his amazing work.
It all started when he was in the Pakistan trying to reach the peak of K2 in memory of her younger sister who had died of Epilepsy. He didn’t reach the peak, the promise wasn’t kept but according to the interview, instead, they[him and the others] had to spend tremendous man hours(75 to be precise) to sae one of the Porter’s life.
That spelled a decision to move back to ‘base camp’ but he took a wrong turn and ended up in the village of Korphe. As usual the villages were hospitable, he recovered and thanked them.
As he was walking around someday he noticed a group of toddlers scribbling on the ground with sticks- no books no classrooms.
A little girl approached him and asked him if he could build them a school. Greg subconsciously made her a promise of a school obviously moved by the youngster. A promised that marked the beginning of his trademark Pennies For Peace project which led to the birth of the not-for-profit educational charity CAI[Central Asia Institute].
Little did he know it was an uphill task.
So he returned to the U.S. and the village people bade goodbye not expecting much after all he was just another ‘crazy foreigner’ who had come to conquer their peaks then leave- They might have figured he was also a ‘regular guy’ and on that they were correct- not in a bad way.
Fast forward 2010, many years later from that 1993 encounter Greg Mortenson runs an organisation responsible for building over 140 schools mainly catering for girls in the mostly rural parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan where the Taliban are strongest and as we know these guys are opposed to female education but not one school has been shut down or destroyed by Taliban fire or otherwise .
How did he do that and why girls?
Well, i’ll try to answer both briefly as my aim is not to repeat the entire interview or any aspect of Greg’s work available online in much detail.
He involved local elders/leaders/people in all his
construction projects matching any monies he brought through fundraisers and donations to labour, material and any other output from the local people i.e. building for them, by buying from them [labour and material] at the same time building them [economically, socially and otherwise] which in turn gave the locals a sense of ownership and responsibility for the school.
All didn’t end after construction- most Pennies For Schools and by extension CAI staff are not graduates but local people leaving him to do all the speaking engagements for his 40 week record bestseller which i’ll talk about later.
Why girls? His parents were teachers posted by the Lutheran church to work in Usambara, that’s in Tanzania [if you remember Usambara mountains from your Primary school Geography] from 1958-1973.
Being born in 1957 and for those 15 years spent in Africa, Greg in his own words came across this “famous African proverb” which we all know- Educate a man you educate an individual and educate a girl you educate the whole nation.
With his New York Times best seller Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One school at a time co-authored by David Oliver Rein a mandatory read to all U.S. Generals and military staff, this is not the only book out neither his only award and only beaten to the Nobel Peace prize by that ‘controversial’ Obama Nobel. Now i guess you get the picture of his success from humble beginnings.
Talking of humble and going back to the beginning all this didn’t come without breaking a sweat.
As Greg wet back to the States after promising Korphe ‘residents’ a school he webt back to his nursing job then quitlater, collected his savings and consulted his mother who was a school teacher at an elementary school. He gave a talk, his first where her mother taught school and being an introvert with no prior experience as a public speaker it wasn’t much to write home about.
The little ones paid little attention to the first ‘Pennies For Peace’ speech soliciting money for his project though he himself admits he has neverdone any soliciting.
But one young boy came to him and with a straight face told him he had a piggy at home and would give all of it’s contents to the Pakistani kids who needed it most. From there on one thing led to another and by the time he went back to Korphe with about USD 13,000 the villagers weren’t even expecting him.
Nevertheless he realised his work was not done yet. He had to build a bridge first across a river to transport building materials to the right spot and that meant going back to America to look for more money.
For a guy now commanding about ten thousand people whenever he calls a meet no challenge seemed insurmountable- just like those mountains.
Critics abound. He has been called a traitor and received threatening emails for educating Muslim kids- children of the enemy.
For all his efforts he has received two fatwas, been under CIA investigation and was kidnapped by the Taliban.
His book Three Cups Of Tea as i said earlier is a mandatory read by the US top military and staff-by order from Commander In Chief i should add- and his approach of building schools as a way of improving the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan is being embraced by the US military.
If only the Military could have adopted that earlier maybe we would not be having Wikileaks’ ‘Afghani Papers’.
NB: below are some useful links for more about Greg, and his work