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A Very Inspiring Mission
on December 24, 2009
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.