When we last saw Greg Mortenson in the early part of this century, he was, with the assistance of his NGO, the Central Asian Institute, helping local residents from primitive Pakistani villages in the upper Swat Valley build a number of schools for young children. While the details of this adventure, as found in "Three Cups of Tea", forms one of the most inspiring and gripping books I have ever read, Mortenson returns from a more recent sojourn in the adjoining land of northern Afghanistan, with an even better tale for his readers to enjoy. When I took up "Stones into Schools", the account of his school-building exploits in a region known as the Wakhan Corridor, I was curious to learn how he and his organization would expand their humanitarian efforts into the far-flung, often wild and inaccessible corners of war-torn Afghanistan. Since this part of the world was shut off to Mortenson during the horror years of the Taliban rule in the late nineties, he had to wait for a regime change in 2002 to make his move. This time, the construction efforts would be focused on setting up schools for young girls in out-of-the-way places, who were educationally-deprived and socially shunned by traditional Afghan society. This book describes the challenges Mortenson and his local contacts had in gaining access to the land of the Kirghiz people, winning their confidence and cooperation in building schools, and then training locals to operate them. The reader should have no problem envisaging the tortuous and treacherous landscape of the Parmir Knot Mortenson and his amazing agent and friend, Sarfraz, have to cross to reach these impoverished villages with a message of hope. While Mortenson devotes a lot of his attention describing the physical(earthquakes), political(corruption and crime) and economic(poverty) obstacles confronting the building of these schools, his real moment of triumph comes when the job finally gets done by locals with local materials. I recommend this book as a powerful reminder of what can get done if people are willing to set aside their petty differences in the interest of a common good.
"And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful." -- Titus 3:14
Stones into Schools is a book that will change your life: Greg Mortenson impressively demonstrates that by following your heart to do what you can to help those in need, much can be accomplished . . . far beyond your wildest dreams.
The book is beautifully written: The structure and story-telling provide a sense of observing a heroic saga about an epic battle between ignorance and knowledge.
Most importantly, this is a book that can change the world by providing an example of seeking to listen to others, understanding them at the deepest level, selflessly helping to provide what they cannot do for themselves, and trusting that those in need will eventually take care of themselves and others like them.
I hope that many young people will read this book and decide to start up activities that follow a similar path of service to those who are being ignored . . . and need a helping hand.
If you read Three Cups of Tea, you would be foolish to miss this book. The opening briefly recounts those events (to refresh your memory if you didn't read it recently, or to fill in the gaps if you have never read it all). From there, the story mostly moves to Afghanistan as Greg Mortenson and his colleagues from the Central Asia Institute (CAI) seek to keep the promise to bring a school to what may be the most difficult location in that challenged country. If providing schools in remote locations isn't enough, CAI also had to brave the ongoing war there. The story moves into its highest gear as Mr. Mortenson recounts the horrible devastation that a major earthquake (about the same power as the 1906 quake in San Francisco) brought to the mountainous regions, wiping out almost all the schools and killing many of the students and teachers.
In telling the bigger story, you'll be astounded by the ongoing deprivations that teachers, students, and the CAI staff go through to build and support the new schools. This is beyond a labor of love: It's self-sacrifice at a high level for the good of future generations.
As the organization's size and influence have increased, Mr. Mortenson's role has increasingly focused on being the public face of CAI through the books and doing fund-raising speeches. On the ground in Asia, his colleagues have developed an astonishing ability to work wonders. I was left hoping that the organization will be able to attract even more resources so that even more can be done. What a blessing will it be when a third book can be written with a title something like "Schools into Nations."
There's another major theme here: Liberating women from ignorance. When women gain more knowledge, families and communities advance. The book is filled with practical examples of that point.
The book's title alludes to the many deaths that occurred during the last 30 years of war in Afghanistan. As one of the leaders pointed to the rocky hills around him, he noted that there had been as many deaths as there were rocks. But now, the time had come to turn those rocks into schools. In many cases, explosives were actually used to turn boulders into building material for the schools. It's a powerful metaphor that you won't forget.
As the United States ups the military force in Afghanistan, it's good to remember that you can build and staff more than 20 schools in the high mountains there for the cost of one cruise missile. I hope that we get our priorities straight. I was encouraged to read about the interest that many people in the U.S. military have in supporting development of schools in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let's hope that is what our legacy will be there.
What can you do to help Central Asia Institute to accomplish more? The book provides answers on pages 405 and 406. Don't skip over that part.
on February 5, 2010
I think we're all guilty of stereotyping one another, it easy, and definitely requires more effort to get to know the other. Greg on the other hand, takes each person as they are, and how they reveal themselves to him. The best thing about this book, which also speaks volumes to Mr. Mortenson's success is his honesty in getting to know the Afghani and Pakistani people, rather then telling them this is what you need, he asks them and more often than not, they tell him what they need, which is exactly what he, or any person who wants to progress does, education. Throughout the book we see examples of communities seeking him out, begging him to build school for their kids, especially girls. Great is shattering the stereotypes of the typical Muslim Afghani or Pakistani male. Definitely a must read.
on May 10, 2010
The first book on Greg Mortenson's adventure humanitarian work was aptly titled `3 Cups of Tea' after an explanation of a local custom by his Mentor Haji Ali, the chief of Pakistan's northernmost village of Korphe, who had said, "The first time you share tea with a Balti villager you are a stranger; the second cup that you share is an offer of friendship; and the third cup of tea means that you are now part of the family and we can even die for you". This custom is loosely accurate for the rest of Pakistan too.
The second book has been very adequately titled `Stones into Schools' after a former Mujahideen Leader of the northeastern Afghanistan, Commander Sadhar Khan, who once pointing out to the grave stones scattered on a field in thousands explained, "These stones remind of thousands of Afghan children killed since late 70s. Now it is the time to turn the stones into schools". It offers even more of what I call adventure humanitarian work.
Both the books will appeal to readers interested in finding out root cause of the current problem of terrorism, the ways to fight this evil and the ways not to fight this evil. This book continues to be primarily about Greg Mortenson's humanitarian work with respect to girl education in the remotest, and may I add most adventurous and "the last best parts" of Pakistan (Karakorums, Himalayas, and Neelum Valley) and Afghanistan (Pamir). In the process however, it touches in a great educating and a graphical way on various topics that are at the center of American foreign policy as it walks the reader through Afghanistan - Pakistan border territories, Mujahideens and the Afghan-Soviet war (1980s), Talibans (1990s and up to now), war lords, a brief history of Afghanistan and of Wakhan territory, Indo-Pakistani affairs, Afghan and Pakistani quaint ethnicities; cultures; and religious groups.
The book also part drives and part hitch-hikes the readers through Pakistan's earthquake of 2005 that killed 600,000 people; majority of them school going students just opening up their books to study when the earthquake or "zalzala" as it is called in Urdu, but given a much deeper name of `Qiyamat' or Apocalypse came roaring down in the morning. Furthermore, you may have read all about the destruction of Afghanistan and its people since late 1970s, but this account is so graphical that you will visualize the tragedy unfolding as if you were living it.
I found the book written in a better way than the first one. It is written in a chronological account in the form of a biography that is a good thing to start with. In the process, the spadework for building schools and expansion of girl education program is explained. This is firstly a physical adventure in that, for example, our heroes had to hitchhike for 17 hours on one occasion to reach the farthest Pakistani village hit by earthquake, had to sleep under earthquake wrecked trucks and out on pavements, drive from Kabul to Wakhan under the threat of terrorist attacks, etc. It is a psychological adventure as well in that our heroes had major hurdles dealing with Government officials in Kabul for obtaining some basic permissions to get going in Wakhan territory, had to try convincing Pakistani orthodox parents into sending their high performing daughters for higher studies on CAI scholarships, debating whether they could do something for improving the life of an 11 years old Afghan boy working as a mechanic, etc.
I guarantee that even if you are an adventure traveller or a doctor who has experienced dying people around you, `Stones into Schools' is a book that will bring tears of sorrow and tears of joy in your eyes. In the end, you will be left with a feeling of success and of hope, yet an uncertainty glaring at you - whether the power that be will listen to the advice contained in this book by people from so many different areas of life on the best way to fight terrorism and extremism.
on December 28, 2009
What makes this book special?
Greg Mortenson is gifted in listening to people. He looks into their eyes and realizes that they are human just like he is.
But this takes a lot of time. If somehow we could be disciplined to learn a little of another language and manage to listen to people to tell how they feel about things, it would be a better world.
The media let us know constantly about disastrous things happening across the world. But we are not told about good people doing good things in every emergency.
The number one sin of our North American culture is that it fails to listen to what others are trying to say to us. Our great strength of money and power becomes our weakness.
The "three cups of tea" formula empowers others, indeed "winning their hearts and minds". We should go with books, not guns.
on February 10, 2010
Stones into Schools picks up where Three Cups of Tea left off. We are taken into Afghanistan and the world of Taliban, nomadic horseman and living conditions that stretch the limits of human endurance. Once again, this is a rolicking adventure tale that will keep you up late at night racing from one chapter to the next to see how it is all going to work out. It is both entertaining and inspirational, and a story of true sacrifice by so many people for the common good. Your preconceived notions of people living in this part of the world will change profoundly as your move through the chapters and Mortenson's writing style is captivating. I have loaned out Three cups of tea so many times now that it is falling apart. I know that this book will meet the same fate. You will want everyone you know to read this book.
on May 3, 2010
There is no bravado or ego in Greg Mortenson or the CAI organisation. The sacrifices and time associated with the mission to build schools and educate people who live in a land ripped by war and poverty is infinite in size. Humanitarian is to small a label for this man and his CAI team.
I have read Three Cups of Tea and loved it. Stones into Schools is even better. The writing in first person is better and the stories of the travels, tribulations and people are entertaining and very informative. Never depressing and forever optimistic makes this book a great read.
This book should be a mandatory read for any person over the age of 14. So much can be learned, history, work ethics, loyalty, war, peace, poverty and much more.
on February 11, 2010
For me this was a wonderful heart warming and thrilling book.We hear much pessimism about efforts in Afghanistan. This book is filled with hope even though as reaaders we are exposed to much pain and surrering. We are porvided with insight into Afghanistan that for me is much deeper and different from what we read in newspapers, magazines or hear on televsion. Four years ago I read "Three Cups of Tea". I recommend "Stones into Schools" as a follow-up that won't disappoint. Through this book I find myself awed and appreciative of the Greg Mortensons of this world and his Afghani associates.
on April 7, 2010
After reading Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time last year, I was super excited to read Stones into School. What had happened since the publication of his last book?
One of the main things I liked about this book was the fact that it was written by Greg himself. It made this one more special and personal.
I also enjoyed learning about how he has grown personally and adjusted to how CAI has matured into the larger entity it is today. The detailed stories of his newest staff members - their journeys and accomplishments are humorous and heartfelt. I don't know how he managed to do it but he found people as passionate and devoted to the cause of girl's education as he is himself.
Other special highlights include the incredible tale of building of a school in the most remote parts of Afghanistan, learning about the devastation caused by the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, and Greg's change of mind about the US military and their role in the countries.
If you liked Three Cups of Tea, you will be sure to love Stones into Schools. It will make you both laugh and cry.
Greg Mortenson is a man who truly makes a difference. His story needs to be told so more people can become of aware of what he is doing and help his cause.
on July 14, 2011
A must-read for everyone....this book really brings home the realities of life in rural Pakistan & Afghanistan, a world most of us know very little about, and yet many of us have formed opinions about. We take for granted our opportunities for things such as education and women's rights in the "developed" world...in these countries, people (especially females) are so hungry for education, so in need of women's rights....that they overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, to learn, to go to school, to educate their communities, to make their own lives better. It made me realize not only what good, strong, down-to-earth people live there, but also how much we should appreciate the lives we have in North America. Also, that a small amount of money to us would mean a world of difference to them, to help promote education, therefore peace, making a better world for us all. Please read this book, and help Greg Mortensen and the CAI to continue to do the awesome work they do!!