“Look here, look at these hills,” Khan indicated the boulder fields that marched up from the dirt streets of Baharak like irregularly spaced headstones, arrayed like a vast army of the dead as they climbed toward the deepening sunset. “There has been far too much dying in these hills,” Sadhar Khan said, somberly. “Every rock, every boulder that you see before you is one of my mujahadeen, shahids, martyrs, who sacrificed their lives fighting the Russians and the Taliban. Now we must make their sacrifice worthwhile,” Khan said, turning to face Mortensen. “We must turn these stones into schools.” (Three Cups of Tea, pg. 330)
Monday night I had the honor of listening to Greg Mortensen speak at Gonzaga University. Mortensen is the author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones for Schools, both of which outline the work he does with the non-profit charity The Central Asia Institute which builds and supports schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The statistics and facts Mortensen recites in his talk are staggering:
- 120 million children do not attend school. 78 million of those are female.
- The dream budget of the Afghan Minister of Education for the 24 universities in Afghanistan would be 240 million dollars which is most likely the lower end of a single mid-sized college in the United States.
- Educating girls reduces the infant mortality rate, reduces population expositions, and increases the literacy rate of elders as the children teach the adults around them to read.
- One-third of the boys educated return to their community and two-thirds of the girls return.
- In the last 3 ½ years, the Taliban has shut down 3000 schools – two thirds to three fourths of those schools educated girls.
One of the most significant things the CAI organization has found out is that education is one of the most important tools for combating terrorism. Women who are educated do not want their children to strap on bombs and commit suicide.
The stories we heard were amazing – communities banding together to educate their children. CIA provides building materials and expertise; the community must provide the land and labor so there is intense buy-in beyond the desire to educate. Mortensen told of people giving to their communities in Central Asia and around the world. His point is to make a difference where you are – to contribute where ever you can in what ever way you can because that is the way we build a different model – a model where people’s needs are met, children are educated and peace is a way of life for everyone.
Mortensen ended by talking of the power of literacy – the power in being able to write your name – if being able to physically see that you have an identity. He spoke of the power of listening to our elders – hearing the wisdom they bring to the world, the stories they tell of survival, of happiness. And he spoke of the power of teaching someone to read – the joy a child has in reading a newspaper to their parent, the excitement of having the means to continue to learn, the exhilaration of being able to give back to your community – a good message for Wednesday or any other day.