Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Three Cups of Tea Author Returns

Today is new-release Tuesday, the day of the week when publishers are most likely to release new books. This week's hot ticket is Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Greg Mortenson, co-author of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea.

In his first book, co-written with Portland author David Oliver Relin, Greg told the story of his attempt in 1993 to climb K2, the massive summit in the Himalayas. When he failed, a small village in Pakistan -- Korphe, at the base of the Karakoram Mountains -- took him in and nursed him back to health. To thank them, he committed to building a school for the children of the village.

Stones into Schools continues that story. Mortenson co-founded the Central Asia Institute, which has now built more than 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan serving 58,000 children -- of which 40,000 are girls.

As an example of how much progress has been made, in Afghanistan in 2000, only about 800,000 children attended school, and most of those were boys -- many attending extremist madrassa. Today, 8.4 million children attend school, including 2.5 million girls. The girls often then go home and help teach their mothers to read. Educated women, Mortenson believes, can be a firewall against extremism.

Besides the growth in schools, which is phenomenal in itself, the efforts of the CAI have led to other related improvements: women's literacy programs, bridges, water-delivery systems, libraries, and teacher-training programs. In October 2005, an earthquake in Pakistan destroyed more than 9000 schools, and about a quarter of the casualties were children, most of them in school at the time of the quake. The CAI established temporary tent schools, and then worked to build several earthquake-proof schools.

The goal of the CAI is "to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan." Mortenson is also the co-founder of Pennies for Peace, which he founded with school children in the US to help raise money for building schools. P4P aims to "educate American children about the world beyond their experience and how they can make a positive impact on a global scale, one penny at a time."

Stones into Schools is less personal than Three Cups of Tea -- which included the story of Mortenson marrying his wife Tara six days after meeting her -- and offers more on the history, geography, and politics of the central Asia region. But given the importance and success of his endeavors, I expect it to be just as eagerly embraced as Three Cups of Tea, which has sold more than three million copies throughout thirty-nine countries and is required reading for special forces deployed to Afghanistan.

Khaled Hosseini, a native of Afghanistan and the author of the international bestsellers The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written the foreword to Stones into Schools: "...Greg believes, as I do, that if Afghanistan has any chance to become a more prosperous nation, it will require the full engagement of its women as part of the process. And for that to happen, women have to be given access to schools, and their education has to be one of the cornerstones of national reconstruction and development. As he says repeatedly, mantralike, 'If you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a community.'"

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