Friday, October 5, 2007

S.D. connections helped author of book (10-05-07)

Sioux Falls Argus Leader

S.D. connections helped author of book

By David Kranz

October 5, 2007, Friday

If you have been in a bookstore in recent months, you probably have seen "Three Cups of Tea" prominently displayed on the shelf.

I was intrigued by the cover but never picked it up. It wasn't until Jack Rentschler told me about it that my interest was piqued, particularly by the South Dakota connection.

Greg Mortenson's story, co-authored with David Oliver Relin, is a powerful account of the challenges he's faced in Pakistan and Afghanistan. From those major hurdles came a commitment from him to help make a difference in the area of education. Mortenson, a 1983 graduate of the Univ. of South Dakota with a bachelor's of liberal studies and an degree in nursing, tells the compelling story that began in 1993, rising out of his failed pursuit to reach the peak of K2 in Pakistan, the world's second highest mountain.

After descending the mountain, he was separated from those he traveled with, coming upon a poverty-stricken Pakistani village - a place that left a permanent impression in his mind, a place where children had little or no opportunity to receive an education.

Failure to conquer the mountain led Mortenson to reprioritize his life, focusing on becoming a humanitarian. His goal would be improving and expanding educational opportunities in these countries.
He only would be content making sure these children's educational needs were met, particularly addressing the educational opportunities for girls. Today, 58 schools have grown out of Mortenson's mission in Pakistan and Afghanistan, educating more than 20,000 children. He is founder and executive director of the nonprofit Central Asia Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting education to underprivileged children.

Achieving the goal would create new concerns, resulting in his campaign against Islamic fundamentalists who would sometimes find their members in the religious schools.

Mortenson's ultimate objective to educate in the face of the turmoil of war is defined in a chapter aptly titled, "The Enemy Is Ignorance."

"If we try to resolve terrorism with military might and nothing else, then we will be no safer than we were before 9-11. If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs," Mortenson writes.

His acknowledgements in the book include help he received along the way and covers four pages, including these mentions: "From South Dakota, and my USD alma mater, I thank four noteworthy individuals who touched my life: Lars Overskei, Tom Brokaw, Dr. Dan Birkeland, and Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today and the D.C.-based Freedom Forum, from which I received the 2004 Free Spirit Award."

Incidentally, Brokaw was one of 580 celebrities he wrote to, asking for money to build a school in that village. Of those 580 letters, Brokaw was the only one who responded with money.

Mortenson returned in 2006 to deliver the USD commencement address.

© 2007 Souix Falls Argus Leader. All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.