Peace out with Books

In good Forget the Box fashion, this week’s environmental column is a book review.

I have to admit that it’s a little embarrassing when I don’t really know anything about a huge subject area, like, say, the problems in the Middle East.   Guilty as charged.   As someone who doesn’t pay that much attention to mainstream media (particularly concerning how this particular issue is framed) and who hasn’t had anyone sit down with her to outline the whodunit of it all, I have always been confused between the goings-on of Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.

Thanks to the book “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, this whole spectrum of well known knowledge is no longer a fuddled confused pile of foreign places and problems.

At the core of this book is the message that following you passion, whatever that may be, can move mountains.   What Greg Mortenson, through the Central Asia Institute (CAI) has accomplished for the impoverished regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and other ‘stans will blow your mind.   Having worn several different hats throughout his life, from mountaineer to nurse to the director of an international organization, Greg has been on a path that has helped promote peace in regions of Central Asia by building schools for girls.

The idea of promoting peace and environmental protection through educating the female population within poorer regions is not a new idea and still it remains a very good idea.   Mortenson finds inspiration in the faces of his own children, which he projects onto the faces of the children he works endlessly to help.

Korphe School completed in 1996 (photo from

Having done a tiny bit of development work myself with Engineers Without Borders Canada, I have an inkling of how exhausting it can be to always be “on” and figuring out how to satisfy a constant stream of expectations (one tiny downside to the enormous opportunity and growth that does happen within these types of experiences).   Mortenson, as described in this book, has mastered these waters and goes to whatever means necessary to help the people who ask for it.

In a skeptical, “i” culture, where it can be rare to reach out and lend a helping hand for fear of not having enough for yourself, I find this selfless and heroic.   It’s challenging to keep perspective and remember exactly why we do the things we do and Mortenson is a shining example of this virtue.

Throughout this book, Mortenson’s will and determination was not shaken by the fact that he would spend months at a time away from his wife and small children, nor the fact that he was in Northern Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border, during and post 9/11.   The one thing that did shake him were some threatening letters sent by his fellow Americans, brutally criticizing him for supporting Muslims while American soldiers were “over there” fighting for “freedom”.

Author Greg Mortenson (image from Wikipedia)

Not having the support of his own people was a challenge greater than climbing K2 for Greg, yet he conquered it and persevered, continuing to build school after school on minimal funding, gaining admiration and supporters in the highest reaches of Central Asia.

A few other unique things in this book are the fact that Greg is over 6 feet tall, married his wife, also a hero in her own way, 6 days after meeting each other and can get into such an exhausted state that he can sleep just about anywhere, in anything, at any time.

So, in the end, what does this have to do with the environment?   My answer is: everything. Educating women educates a village and this often leads to resource and environmental protection.

Please read this book.   As someone who is ardently fascinated by the unconventional change-makers of the world, Greg has my full attention and I intent to google the bajeebus out of him and the CAI, especially since I’d never heard of him before.

Muslim girls in Pakistan do not tend to capture the media’s attention, especially since there is plenty of opposition and confusion about the issues surrounding these regions of the world.   If you were like me and want to find yourself pleasantly informed and incredibly inspired, this book may be right for you. You may even be inspired to get out and start collecting pennies to help Mortenson along!

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