Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin

Three Cups of Tea is a New York Times bestselling book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin published by Penguin in 2006.[1] The book describes Mortenson's transition from a mountain-climber to a humanitarian committed to reducing poverty and educating girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He did this by co-founding the "Central Asia Institute," which has built over 78 schools in the most remote areas of the countries.[2][3]

The book's title comes from a Balti proverb:
“ The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family...[4]

In 1993, Greg Mortenson, to honor his deceased sister Christa's memory, attempted to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan.[5] After more than 70 days on the mountain, Greg and three other climbers had their ascent interrupted by the need to complete a 75-hour life-saving rescue of a fifth climber. The rescue took too much out of Mortenson, forcing him to accept failure and descend the mountain. After getting lost during the descent, he became weak and exhausted, and by chance alone, instead of arriving in Askole, where his porters awaited, he came across Korphe, a small and unremarkable village built on a shelf jutting out from a canyon. He was greeted and taken in by the chief of Korphe, Haji Ali.[6]

To pay the remote community back for their compassion, Mortenson promised to build a school for the village. After a frustrating time trying to raise money, Mortenson was introduced to Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer. Jean, who climbed mountains in the region as a younger man, donated the money Greg needed for his school. In the last months of Hoerni's life, he co-founded the Central Asia Institute, endowing the CAI to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.[7]

Co-author Relin recounts Mortenson's efforts in fascinating detail, presenting compelling portraits of the village elders, con artists, philanthropists, mujahideen, Taliban officials, ambitious school girls and upright Muslims Mortenson met along the way. As the book moves into the post-9/11 world, Mortenson argues that extremism in the region can be detered through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls.[8]

Faced with daunting challenges of raising funds, death threats from enraged mullahs, separation from his family, and a kidnapping, Mortenson eventually succeeded in building more than 55 schools in Taliban territory. Award-winning journalist Relin recounts the slow and arduous task Mortenson set for himself, a one-man mission aimed particularly at bringing education to young girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan.[9]

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