Fight terrorism with relationships and education as opposed to bullets and bombs. Will this radical approach ever become part of our military agenda? In some ways it already is, thanks to the work of Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute (CAI). Mortenson's previous work, "Three Cups of Tea," is now "required reading for all officers enrolled in counterinsurgency courses at the Pentagon."
In the book, "Stones into Schools" author Greg Mortenson resumes his description of the Central Asia Institute (CAI) and its efforts to promote "peace with books not bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan." Mortenson now has two books on the New York Times Best Sellers top-five lists: one for hardcover fiction and one for paperback fiction.
Some of the flaws in writing and readability of the first book, "Three Cups of Tea", have been omitted in this sequel with welcome results. The second book is not only inspirational, it is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thriller complete with a "dirty dozen" and starring a rather humble, very human humanitarian.
The story begins in 1999 with the dramatic entrance of a group of Kirghiz horseman from a very remote part of Afghanistan, following six days of non-stop riding. At that time, a pledge was made between the beleaguered Kirghiz and Mortenson for his group to build a school on land donated by the local elders. Between that 1999 promise and the actual point that the CAI was able to build a viable school stretch 10 years of adventures and more than 370 pages of text.
No stories are more heart-wrenching than those of the survivors and dead from the disastrous earthquake in Pakistan on Oct. 8, 2008. The author includes emotional descriptions of the horrors of a young former Taliban schoolteacher pulling schoolgirls out of their collapsed building, then describes how the man worked to rebuild schooling for both the boys and girls in his community. He also states "some of the smartest and most effective assistance was provided by groups of Islamic militants," who included conservative educational madrassas in their plans unlike most aid groups which mainly covered the necessities of food, water and shelter.
Mortenson and those who work with him -- mainly the "dirty dozen" in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- go to great lengths to establish relationships and to ensure that their work is based on expressed community needs before laying the first stones for a school building. Their efforts have paid off. In this Taliban-oppressed region where girls can be attacked with battery acid simply because they choose to attend school, there has been very little violence associated with the CAI built schools.
In between the rousing scenes of tribal jirgas and delicate negotiations, Mortenson includes various points of fact and perspective. From 2000 to today, school attendance has increased from about 800,000 boys only to almost 8 million children, of which 2.4 million are girls. Mortenson points out that Afghans want children to go to school because literacy offers "hope, progress and the possibility of controlling their own destiny."
This book about education in the third world has great meaning for our own. In a war-torn country where survival can be an epic struggle, education is incredibly important, worth almost any sacrifice. What is it worth to us?
Albany's Caryl Nemajovsky is a systems librarian at Darton College in Albany.