Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

I don’t want to be just a health worker. I want to be such a woman that I can start a hospital and be an executive, and look over all the health problems of all the women in Braldu. I want to become a very famous woman of this area” says Jahan. Jahan is a girl who was lucky enough to get benefited from one of the schools that Dr. Greg Mortenson built in the Korphe village of Baltistan that is situated south west of the K2 peak and the whole karakoram range of Pakistan.

Greg Mortenson is a mountaineer turned humanitarian. To honor his sister’s memory, in 1993, he climbed K2 the world’s second highest mountain in the Karakoram Range and he fails to reach the summit by a few meters. While recovering from the failure and the climb, he accidently reaches a village called Korphe. In that village, Mortenson meets a group of children sitting in the dirt, writing with sticks in the sand, and looking at their destitution, he promises them to build a school in Korphe. This promise and the decision of constructing schools for the people of Korphe will turn the whole life of Dr. Greg Mortenson. Three Cups of Tea is the book written by Dr. Greg Mortenson and co authored by David Oliver Relin. They both with their wonderful efforts narrate the whole story of ‘One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time’

Talking to the people of Korphe, meeting the elders of the village, he will gain more confidence to his newly set vision. The Korphe village nurmadhar (village head), Haji Ali will come forward to embrace and share Greg’s vision of building a school. After all, the Korphe village and most of the villages in Pakistan waited enough to see the funds released by the Pakistani government to construct government schools. Waiting for so long years, Korphe village people had got adjusted to the system. Every American mountaineer who visits Baltistan, they promise something or the other to the people and end up not returning their promise. But in Greg’s eyes, these villagers developed a strange confidence and an unconditional agreement. Greg during his few days rest at the village, before heading back to America, with the help of Haji Ali and others, will work on estimating the cost of the school and plan out things so that as soon as he returns to America, he can raise enough funds for the same.

Greg, with no money left with him and no job after returning to the states starts his new life with a greater vision and challenge set for him. His only objective will be to save money, raise money and get back to Pakistan as soon as possible. With the most challenging effort of writing 580 letters to all his friends and contacts in America, he will get hardly any response to his request for funds. With all the ups, downs and struggling times, one day he will run in to a person who changes his vision to a possible reality. Dr. Jean Hoerni, a senior retired and wealthy mountaineer, buying into the courage and ambition of Greg Mortenson will agree to donate 12000$ with which one school can be built for Korphe to fulfill his promise. More than anything Hoerni will like the fact that for the first time an American wants to help the Muslim children of Pakistan; which so far was just not even thought out by any other person. After this event, Greg gains more courage and begins his journey towards constructing the school.

Building the first school will become more challenging when Greg learns from the villagers that, to construct a school at Korphe, first they will need to construct the bridge for the Braldu River. So Greg had to go back to the states again to raise money for the bridge. Hoerni, who donated the money for the school, will get convinced with his idea of constructing the bridge and donates 10000$ more for the same. Winning moment by moment, Greg reaches to fulfill his first promise. His courage of building schools for more villages in Pakistan will transform his vision to a greater long term vision of his life. Greg decides to build many numbers of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan region. His career was decided.

Dr. Jean Hoerni will become official donor for all his projects and before he died, his only expectation was to see a photograph of the completed Korphe School. Promotion of education for girls in a place where people were against to it will make Greg’s life miserable; but his perseverance and courage he gains from each of his projects and the smile he keeps seeing on every girl’s face that gets education from his school keeps him reaching spirited heights. Eventually his vision turns into an organization called Central Asia Institute (CAI) for which Hoerni makes him the director and co-founder. Before Hoerni died, he donates one million US dollars to this institute through with Greg’s work increased beyond his expectation.

The kind of challenges Greg went through are unimaginable. I cried many times reading several events including he being kidnapped by terrorists, his painful time during the Kargil war, his painful journey to US and back to Pakistan, people who oppose to his projects, will make us think twice as to whether he has really done such remarkable work or not. But Greg, passionate about girls’ education in the Pakistan and Afghanistan region, has dealt with every obstacle with a smile on his face. He belongs to them and they have accepted him as their family. So far he has constructed 131 schools in that region educating more than 50000 students from the schools. With all the support extended to him by his wife Tara, his two kids, and the members of CAI, he is doing a number of wonderful projects in the land of bombs and shells. The amount of risks he has taken to make his vision a reality is too challenging. Nobody would be willing to spend their time in the place where we can see shells and bombs raining and the whole countryside turned a war field. But Greg had that courage. He took risks. He promoted books for bombs.

Greg says, the only way to counter the global problem of terrorism is by promoting education. Give education to them so that they will not get in to Terrorism. He says “if you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight with high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls. If the girls can just get to the fifth grade level, everything changes”. Along with his school projects, he is also doing number of other projects such as creating tailoring centers for women, water harvest projects and many other community development projects that are interconnected with one other. He also has helped many of the refugee camps evolved because of the war and assisted them with what they need to survive their lives. He continues to raise funds for his projects in the US and across the world trying to counter the terrorism by creating peace through books and education.

It was Haji Ali who shared these interesting lines which became the title of the book – “If you have the first cup of tea with us, you are a stranger; if you have the second cup of tea with us, you are our guest; and if you have the third cup of tea with us, you become our family”. That’s how Mortenson becomes a part of Haji Ali’s and the whole country’s man.

Even though this is a real story and a non-fiction book, as I read it, I felt I am reading a fictional novel. I enjoyed reading the book and it is a greater lesson for all of us to know, learn and do something for the needy.

I have just given the summary of the book in terms of how I felt. But one has to read it to understand the challenges and the tough time Greg went through in the past 16 years to make such brilliant vision a success. My review is not even 1 % justification of Greg’s wonderful project. I am sure you will be touched, moved and inspired by Greg Mortenson and his vision.

I am also very optimistic that he will receive the next ‘Nobel peace prize’.

One can still help for the cause of girls’ education by buying this book. 7% of the book money will directly go into the CAIs projects for Girls’ education. So please buy and read.



Hari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hari said...

The Nobel prize will be honoured if Greg Mortenson gets it !! ...The "One School at a time" mission of working in difficult areas with extreme climates and other obvious difficulties and building 131 schools in remotest villages is really inspiring.....

Sudhi said...

It is really difficult to believe since it is a big challenge to bring in such changes.

Lack of education and employment are inducing people to get into terrorism and Greg's idea of educating people to wipe out terrorism always holds true.

He is really working towards a noble cause especially for humankind.

Kudos to Greg!

SuZ said...

hopefully his schools are still standing amidst all the recent problems there...

Srik said...

@Suz... yeah! surprisingly, in the book, you will read about how much support he is getting from the people out there. It is amazing that villagers are ready to give their lives to protect these schools.

Vaishnavi said...

Thanks for this personal review! Always good to read about a person's journey and struggle to make a difference.

Narasim said...

Your nice review has persuaded me to read the book. Thank you.

What an extraordinary man in an extraordinary place. A mahatma indeed.

All of us know that education is the key to a better standard of living and a better quality of life. And yet it is so difficult to give the gift of education to the needy.

Mortenson's work is inspirational indeed.

Raghu said...

Your reviews inspires me to read the book.

I am finding it very hard to visualise the gigantic task which Greg has done by constructing 131 schools in war hit region with all the personal difficulties which he faced.

It is indeed a noble cause which Greg is doing in the region.

Manikandan said...

Greg Mortenson can be called as one man with the power and determination of one whole army. After all its great to know about people whom in spite of such hardships were able to make things happen from zero to everything. Going to people in the land of bombs and ballistic arms with books and educating them and a whole society, requires lot of courage and determination.

An inspiring personality in all ways and a man with a vision and mission.

Hope to have many more humans in this world to make it a safe place to live in.

Thanks for recommending this book… A must read !!