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Greg The ‘Regular Guy, Crazy’ Humanitarian

August 2, 2010

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?

Greg with youngsters hungry for knowledge, absorbing it like a sponge

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 PeaceOne 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.

A guy with a thing for language who speaks Pashtun, Urdu and other local languages. Probably Swahili too; no excuse for 15yrs growing up in Tanzania

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


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