Greg Mortenson: Pennies For Peace (updated: April 2011)

What appears below is an object lesson in how the  manipulation of the media can lead you to jump on bandwagons. I feel it is important that I point out to people who may wish to read this post the link to the CBS 60 Minutes report that has investigated Greg Mortenson and found out some disturbing details about him that he has, of yet, not answered directly.

Please see:

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7363068n&tag=contentMain;contentAux

I recently joined in the Twitter  backchannel of an Edutopia webinar called “The Power of One” http://www.edutopia.org/greg-mortenson-webinar-archive which was given by someone I freely admit that I had never really heard of called Greg Mortenson.I only got to know that the webinar was taking place because I follow Edutopia on Facebook.

I started to get interested by the comments that were coming from the participants and followers of the webinar and I started to comment on a few of the tweets myself. As the webinar went on I became more and more interested in this man and wanted to look him up.

I looked at the information on the Edutopia site and found that he had written a book called “Three Cups Of Tea” which was based on a saying that he had been told about by the elder of the village in the mountainous area of Northern Pakistan which he had wandered into after a failed attempt to climb the treacherous KS peak in honour of his dead sister. The saying says that a man can get three cups of tea.. with the first one he is a stranger, with the next a guest and with the third he is family and that they would do anything for family!

The thing that he wanted the people to do was to help him build a school in this remote and terribly poor area of the world. He had been helped to get back to health by these people and this was his way of trying to repay them. He had also been moved by the site of so many of the children in this area sitting in the cold open area and writing in the ground with sticks.

He recounts his story in his first book which I ordered and have just started to read. I will be writing a review of the book in this blog when I have completed it. This morning though I was able to go to the address that I have posted above and actually listen and watch the amazing photographs of a man who I now believe is one of the most remarkable human beings alive.

If you do get the chance then I would strongly urge you to listen to this webinar… because what we have here is a man who has achieved great things by building schools and who has been kidnapped by the Taliban and had his life threatened by people in his own country the U.S. A. … but who has steadfastly kept to his mission of building schools and using education as a means of overcoming poverty, injustice and creating a peaceful world…. he has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize and, in respect of his very real understanding of Afghanistan (a country, which, like Pakistan its neighbour, he has also built schools in) he has had the chance to influence the U.S. Chief-Of-Staff and point the way to a peaceful solution to what is becoming a terrible war with many casualties. I am sure that he will one day receive this prize and maybe there isn’t anybody who deserves it more.

I have subtitled my blog entry “Pennies For Peace” and this is another amazing part of Mortenson’s amazing story. When he returned to the U.S.A. he was broke and had no real home except his car. He was determined to raise money for the school to thank the Balti people who had saved him and nursed him back to health. He wrote over 500 letters (typewritten) to  famous people and received one cheque back (spelled check in U.S.)

Almost despairing of ever getting any help for his cause he heard from his mother, the Principal of an elementary school, that the children in her school wanted to hear his story. He came and talked to them and they were so moved by what he said that they decided to save all their extra pennies and give them to him… collectively this amounted to a lot of money.

Mortenson used this idea as the basis for launching his “Pennies For Peace” organisation http://www.penniesforpeace.org/

As you can see from the picture above  the organisation has spread from the original school to schools all over the U.S. A. and Canada ( I am hoping to pass the idea on to a school that I work with in Britain). This is such a marvellous idea. It gets children to contribute in a very real way to the building of schools and indirectly to the building of peace.

It is, as it says in the site, an international service learning programme. It is truly one of the most wonderful ideas that I have come across in a very long time.

I have one last photograph to show you.. of Greg Mortenson with children in one of his schools. He has built over 130 schools now, many of them for girls, who he believes hold the key to real change in their society (following the African saying that he learnt from his childhood, educate a boy and you educate one person, educate a girl and you educate a whole community).

This is truly a great story of a remarkable human being I feel so lucky to have come across it, as I do most things, from being a part of a social network such as Facebook… much maligned but in many ways very powerful and capable of changing the world … as Haja Ali the  chief of Korphe village in the Karkoram Mountains of Pakistan and Greg’s mentor said to him once…. “listen to the wind“.

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