Sunday, January 3, 2010
Three Cups of Tea tells the story of Greg Mortenson and his work to establish schools in the mountain villages of Pakistan and ultimately Afghanistan. It is a powerful tale of dedication to a cause and a fervent belief in the power of education. The story is told by both Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, a journalist who was introduced to Mortenson’s story and was compelled to write it about it. The journalistic style of the writing, coupled with the peppering of quotes from Mortenson and other key players in the story, makes for a very accessible read.
Mortenson, a mountaineer, is inspired to found a school in an impoverished Pakistan village of the Karakoram mountains. He is inspired by both the memory of his late sister and an encounter he has with village children.
Often during his time in Korphe, Mortenson felt the presence of his little sister Christa, especially when he was wit Korphe’s children. “Everything about their life was a struggle”, Mortenson says. “They reminded me of the way Christa had to fight for even the simplest things. And also the way she had of just persevering, no matter what life threw at her.” He decided he wanted to do something for them.
He would need to call on this inspiration often as he faced the many challenges of building that first school and subsequent schools and public works programs. In addition to being abducted by mujahadeen, Mortenson faced the difficult logistics of building schools in remote villages, corruption within the national government and even the villages, and long stretches of time during which he was away from his family and in considerable personal danger.
I was struck by a number of things as I read this book. The first is Mortenson’s sheer dedication and single-mindedness. There are many places within the story that others would have given up or decided they had done enough and did not need to press forward but that does not happen with Mortenson. He stays focused on his goal and is driven to do more and more to help these mountain villages. Perhaps this drive and dedication comes from his years as a mountaineer – I imagine the same tenacity is needed when summiting mountains in inhospitable conditions.
Secondly, I was constantly impressed by the personal sacrifice made by Mortenson and his family. In the early days of the project, Mortenson lived in his car and then a room within a dirty smoke-filled house share. He found a like-minded soul in his wife, Tara, and she also made numerous sacrifices including living on his meager salary and enduring long periods away from him while she cared for their young children. The type of self-sacrifice demonstrated by Mortenson and his wife is rare.
Finally I was struck by the desire amongst the villagers for the education opportunity being offered by Mortenson. In no way was this project one in which Mortenson single-handedly set up the school in the village and “provided” it for their people. In each project undertaken by Mortenson, the villagers were very engaged and offered their manual labor to complete the work. Villages clamored for the financial assistance from Mortenson so that they could bring education to their children and thereby offer them better opportunities. Their ardent desire to provide education for their children in the face of so many obstacles makes me realize how much we take our access to education for granted in this country.
Three Cups of Tea is a truly inspiring read and one not easily forgotten. My only regret is that I waited as long as I did to read it! This is certainly a must read!