Friday, July 15, 2011

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

In poor regions where citizens have been denied the basic right of an education, the hard work of a few dedicated individuals can make all the difference, as this book demonstrates. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time tells the poignant story of Greg Mortenson, co-founder of the Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit organization that builds schools in regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In 1993, Mortenson was an avid mountain climber who attempted to climb K2, the world’s second highest mountain, located in Pakistan. He failed, however, and wandered lost in the wilderness until the chief elder of the village of Korphe took him in and provided food and shelter. Mortenson was then led on the tour through the village, and found that its makeshift “school” was made up of children sitting outdoors, scratching equations into the dirt with sticks. Moved by the elder’s generosity and wanting to improve the quality of life for the villagers, Mortenson vowed to return one day to build a school.

Mortenson struggled every step of the way: he struggled to find funding and to gain support for his cause, and when his cause started to gain momentum, he was targeted as a heretic by Islamic mullahs and the Taliban, at some point getting kidnapped by a group of radicals. But throughout it all, Mortenson never lost sight of his purpose, and today the CAI has built over 170 schools in poor regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan and has funded humanitarian efforts following the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake.

The book argues the case that education is the means of preventing terrorism, as building schools and promoting literacy programs prevents children from being taught by fundamentalist Islamic systems. The book is also keen on portraying Islam as a benevolent religion in itself that has been stigmatized due to the actions of terrorists. Mortenson succeeds in bridging distances between the West and the East not only with his humanitarian efforts but with his understanding of religious customs. It is this meaningful cross-continental dialogue that nurtures the next generation towards a promising future.

The novel’s title comes from an old Balti proverb: “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family.” This saying refers to the hospitality of the culture that welcomes Mortenson with open arms, and the bonds of friendship he forms with the villagers he aids.

Three Cups of Tea is not to be missed. In addition, Mortenson has written Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which, chances are, would appeal to fans of this book, and provide further inspiration and incentive to make a difference in one’s community.

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