Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Heroes: Greg Mortenson

Thoughtful bloggers flank their daily entries with a variety of gadgets and frames which often include thumbnails of their favorite folks.  I want to expound upon that idea by explaining why I find each of my choices to be inspirational.
Greg Mortenson got lost one day in 1993 while descending from a climb of the world's second highest mountain.  He wandered into a remote village in northern Pakistan and decided that they should have a school.  The institute that he established has since built 130 schools and educated 51,000 children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, most of them girls. 

Cayley and I read Greg's book "Three Cups of Tea" together about a year ago.  It's an extraordinary story!  His thesis is simple: help tribal peoples to develop their own education and economic opportunities so that membership in terrorist organizations such as the Taliban is no longer the only viable option for many of them.

Greg Mortenson is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize - the only question is when

With schoolchildren in rural Pakistan.
Courtesy of the Central Asia Institute
I was thinking that it might be this year, but now I'm glad that it hasn't happened yet.  For as long as he continues to operate without it, he'll continue to grow his influence in a way that derives from his intrinsic authenticity rather than his impending increase in fame. 

This is particularly important now that he has formed an alliance with powerful Houstonian Joanne King Herring

Movie-goers may recognize her as the pivotal female in Charlie Wilson's War, the breathtaking story of how one backwoods Texas Congressman (who got elected in large part because he let his constituents know that his mean-spirited rival had intentionally killed his dog) changed the course of human history by spearheading the effort to fund the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan in the early 1980's. 

That story was particularly effective because it showcased the type of American-spirited underdogs who we all secretly hope will save us from further suffocating decline at the hands of our obscenely-overbuilt bureaucracy.  Big names and international medal winners don't accomplish the type of turnaround that these people did.  Only maverick individuals operating mostly under the radar and entirely according to their own rules can be expected to out-wit the system.

That Mortenson has now allied with Herring represents the ultimate in closure.  In early 2010, Charlie Wilson died knowing that the work in Afghanistan was only half done: the country was liberated but was left in the type of shambles that seeds radical militarism.  Mortenson independently arose to face that challenge and now he is working with the only other person in this country who has a successful track record of making a difference there.  I find this incredibly satisfying:  it was meant to be.

A school built in Afghanistan.
Lawrence's mother is involved with community development work in Fort Bend County and she once mentioned to us that there are something like four thousand registered nonprofit agencies in that county alone.  FOUR THOUSAND??!!?  Imagine how many there are nation-wide!! 

It's hard to imagine any single organization rising above the deafening din of charitable solicitations with which we all must contend, but that's what the Central Asia Institute did for me - it stood out as a clear choice for my donations.  On this page, CAI lists typical costs associated with school-building and school-running.  Six hundred dollars pays a teacher's salary for one year!   If I give $600 to my church, they might use it to keep the lights on for a few weeks, duh.  I must say, I find it much more fulfilling to think that the same sum could support an entire teacher!

Compare these costs with the cost of ongoing war in Afghanistan, currently estimated at
And this isn't just another in an endless stream of American imperialist efforts either - if you read "Three Cups of Tea" you can see the degree of cultural adaptation and sensitivity that they have embraced in building this educational infrastructure. 

Greg Mortenson is the real deal: a selfless American hero setting phenomenal outreach and personal excellence examples for the rest of us.

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