Books, Not Bombs
“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.”
— Greg Mortenson (“Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time”)
“Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations … One School at a Time” By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Published by Viking, New York, 2006.
When I sat down to read “Three Cups of Tea,” I found myself unable to move until I had finished the book cover to cover. Greg Mortenson deserves every inch of praise he has every received and more. “Three Cups of Tea” is a beautifully written testament to the inspirational power of determination and strength. In the face of war, terrorism, hatred and fear, Mortenson gives us something to hold on to; he gives us reason to believe that peace is possible. “Three Cups of Tea” shows how one man can see hope and opportunity where most would see only poverty and despair. Greg Mortenson, a Montana-born mountaineer, went into one the world’s poorest regions, decided to build a school and, through the richness of education, gave them wealth that no rupee could ever measure.
As Americans, we have been thrust into a devastating war that the average citizen cannot even begin to understand. I am honestly not sure that even those at the top of our nation’s administrative chain truly know what is going on. After the events of September 11, the United States government and the media sprinted to give us someone to blame, a face, a religion, a culture; the details did not matter except that we could unite against a common enemy. But as Mortenson is quoted as saying to ABC, “The real enemy I think is ignorance. It’s ignorance that breeds hatred.” Knowledge is power. Here is a cliché that is repeated over and over, and yet world leaders still fail to understand. The young people who get swept up in extremist movements do so most often because they were given no other choice. Never once were they given the idea that there is anything else. Mortenson writes, “The only way to defeat it [terrorism] is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.” It is not Mortenson’s goal to “westernize” the Middle East with his schools or enforce some kind of Christian code. Instead his mission is much more simple and pure. He is determined to give the impoverished a thirst for education and then give them the meager resources they need to teach themselves to rise out of poverty.
The most effective path to peace is in the hearts and minds of children. In the eyes of a child, artificial boundaries of race, creed, color and religion all melt away. At the very beginning of his journey, Mortenson finds this to be true. After returning to America, determined to built a school for the people of Korphe, Pakistan, the author is devastated to find how little people cared about what he wanted to do. The American community did not understand why he would want to help these Muslim children living in a place so far away. But when Mortenson brought his idea to a school, the young students understood immediately. They saw pictures of Korphe children writing with sticks and dirt, attempting to practice their lessons without a classroom or even a teacher. The American children wanted to help. They founded Pennies for Peace, a non-profit organization that collects pennies, a coin virtually worthless in the U.S., and raised the first $600 to help build Mortenson’s school.
Society often disregards the immense power that children hold. The future of our world lies in their eager, growing hands. One school at a time, Greg Mortenson is no doubt changing the world. He knew intuitively what many policy-makers fail to see. Building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is our strongest weapon in the “War on Terror.” Supporting education, particularly of girls and youth, is crucial to improving global stability, speeding economic growth, and aiding world health, all of which advance U.S. international interests. Mortenson is a true hero who not only made Korphe’s school a reality, but has since founded more than 130 schools in the Middle East serving over 58,000 students. These schools are a beacon of opportunity and provide an alternative to extremist madrasas that promote hatred, violence and war more than educating their students. The powerful story of “Three Cups of Tea” teaches an unforgettable lesson: Even in a devastating time, in the most forbidding terrain, empower a child and real change can happen in astonishing ways. #