Monday, January 4, 2010

Stones into Schools

I wouldn't quite call this a book review. It is more like a...please for the love of all that is good and wonderful in the world, read this book...thing.

If you are familiar with the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, then this new book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson is right up your alley.

If you are not familiar with Three Cups of Tea, I'll do my best to give it justice. In a nutshell, it is the story of Greg Mortenson and his journey to build schools in Pakistan. While attempting to reach the summit of K2 (one of the highest peaks in the world) in the remotest part of Pakistan back in the mid 90s, Mortenson couldn't complete his journey. Instead he wound up in the little village of Korphe. One day, he observed children having school out in the open air, doing their lessons in the dirt. Before Mortenson left, he made a promise to the village elder Haji Ali that he would someday return to build them a school.

In the quest to fulfill his promise to the people of Korphe, Greg uncovered an unquenchable thirst for education, for literacy, in the rural and most remote parts of Pakistan. Three Cups details his trials, troubles, and triumphs of school-building in Pakistan (and his later expansion into Afghanistan). Visit the book's website here to learn more.

After founding the Central Asia Institute (CAI) in 1996, a nonprofit that promotes female literacy, Mortenson and his band of merry friends, coworkers, and advocates for education (especially female literacy) has grown immeasurably. There are currently 131 schools for impoverished children in some of the most desolate and neglected areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. That number is rising as I write.

As a follow up to the first book, Stones into Schools continues Mortenson's journey. In 1999, Greg met with the Kirghiz horsemen of the area in the Wakhan region of Afghanistan known as the "Roof of the World." The purpose of their visit was to request that Greg build a school for the community.

This book chronicles the beginning of the CAI and Greg's entrance into building schools in Afghanistan. As a country that has suffered from war for the past 30 years, the people are in need of many things. The one thing that may surprise you, as it did me, was their thirst for education.
Said by Wohid Khan, "In our country, our people have suffered through three decades of war, and as you know, many of our fellow mujahadeen have died in these hills and mountains. We have fought hard and we have paid dearly.

A wise man from my home once told me that these mountains have seen far too much suffering and killing, and that each rock and every boulder you see represents a mujahadeen who died fighting either the Russians or the Taliban. Then the man went on to say that now that the fighting is finished, it is time to build a new era of peace--and the first step in that process is to take up the stones and start turning them into schools.

Having fought for so long under the shadow of war, I believe that the finest service that a mujahadeen can now perform is to build schools and promote literacy. The opportunity to participate in this effort is one of the greatest honors of my lifetime."
After reading both books, I realized that of course the people of Afghanistan (and Pakistan as well) want their children to learn. Education and literacy is the way to combat violence and bring peace to our world, not guns and bombs.

The CAI and members of the affectionately named "Dirty Dozen" staff in Pakistan and Afghanistan also have built and continue to build vocational centers, literacy centers, and co-ops for women. One of the staff members, Wakil Karimi, started a few centers in Kabul, Afghanistan. Those few centers unexpectedly rose to quite a large number in order to accommodate the number of applicants. Women were on fire about learning! Mothers brought their children with them. Working women found time to come learn how to read. The surprising explosiveness of the programs caused Greg to think, "there might well be a second Afghan insurgency bubbling away beneath the Taliban's uprising--a quiet and hidden revolution of female learning and liberation."

My friends, this is a wonderful story. It is beautiful because it isn't fiction or fantasy. It is real life, and there are people out there making a difference in the world. I firmly believe that ignorance and intolerance of both countries and their people can be vanquished if we all just pick up these books and read. Let's help promote peace with books! Let's help children learn how to read! Click here to learn more about Stones into Schools.

"When you take the time to actually listen, with humility, to what people have to say, it's amazing what you can learn. Especially if the people who are doing the talking also happen to be children."

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