Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Young Audiences Drink In ‘Three Cups Of Tea' Author (09-26-07)

KITSAP SUN (Washington)

Young Audiences Drink In ‘Three Cups Of Tea' Author

By Tristan Baurick
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bainbridge Island - It's been said that Greg Mortenson has won more "hearts and minds" in a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan than the mightiest military force on earth.

What's this affable ex-mountain climber's secret weapon?

"Literate, educated girls," Mortenson told a crowd of students at Bainbridge High School on Wednesday. "You can drop bombs but unless you educate girls, a society won't change."

Mortenson is the subject of the bestselling book "Three Cups of Tea." Written in partnership with journalist David Oliver Relin, the book recounts how Mortenson -- then a dedicated mountaineer -- veered from the summit of K2 and blazed a new path toward improved education in some of the most isolated regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mortenson, through his Central Asia Institute, has built more than 60 schools that support 18,000 students per year.

A better-educated population acts as a bulwark against violent extremist groups that regularly recruit from the region's poor and illiterate, Mortenson said. And better-educated girls make for future mothers with important lessons to impart to their sons.

"There's an old saying: 'When you educate a boy, you educate an individual,'" he said. "'But when you educate a girl, you educate a community.'"

The notion of putting girls in classrooms wasn't an easy sell in conservative Islamic regions, but Mortenson's vision has earned many believers abroad and at home.

Bainbridge senior Alex Oechsli is one of Mortenson's most recent converts.

"International relations start at the basic level with education," Oechsli said after Mortenson's speech. "Going town by town, person by person is how you make a real difference. That's how (Mortenson) has gone about it. He's shown the right way to do it."

Oechsli and many other students library branch manager Cindy Harrison. "I think that's because people are hungry for a positive, uplifting story from that part of the world, which seems entangled in an impossible situation."

At an afternoon appearance at Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island, over 200 people from 45 different book clubs attended a talk, where the bookstore said that he has sold more copies of "Three Cups Of Tea" than Harry Potter books.

With thousands of children enrolled in schools where none previously existed, "Three Cups of Tea" has no shortage of inspiring true tales.

raised their hands when asked whether they'd read "Three Cups of Tea." The book, which has sold over a half-million copies, was assigned reading in Bainbridge High social studies classes and was on the summer reading list for Poulsbo's West Sound Academy, where Mortenson also spoke Wednesday.

The Bainbridge Island Public Library co-sponsored an evening event with Mortenson that was expected to draw thousands to the Bainbridge High gym.

"This book has resonated in a special way with people," said Bainbridge

One of Mortenson's favorites is the story of a girl who grew up in a remote mountain village and went on to become her region's first health-care worker. After graduating from one of Mortenson's schools and receiving a college education, the girl helped dramatically reduce the annual rate of women dying during childbirth.

"It wasn't easy for her," said Mortenson. "Young boys threw stones at her when she tried to go to school. Teachers refused to teach her. She had to sit outside and listen to lessons outside. But she graduated. She learned how to deliver babies and about immunizations, and not one woman has died giving birth in her area."

If the goal of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and other parts of the Islamic world is peace, Mortenson argues that spending money on books produces a much higher return than bombs.

"We spent $95 billion last year (for the war) in Iraq," he said. "That's $10 million per hour. But it takes just a few dollars per month to send a child to school. If we did that, think of the incredible change that would have on the world."

© 2007 Kitsap Sun. All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission