Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: Stones Into Schools

Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson: I was finishing up Three Cups of Tea as I headed into Iraq for my six month deployment. I gave the book a very positive review by stating that I think it should be a mandatory read for politicians, the military members, and the children in our school systems. I made that bold statement because I felt I learned more in the book about the region we have been at war with for the past decade than I have anywhere else. More specifically I stated, "I learned more about Islam and the countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan than I did in all my time in the military. The book taught me more about the real issues in that area of the world than any news article I have ever read. I am kind of ashamed to admit that, but it is what it is."

So it is quite fitting that I started Greg Mortenson's second book as I began to transition out of Iraq. A girl that was in my wife's sorority in college happened to come across my review of Three Cups of Tea and she also happens to work for Penguin Publishing who released both works under their name. In a very touching sign of appreciation for what I was contributing to overseas, she sent me the sequel along with a few other Penguin releases. I thought that was pretty cool on her part and the part of her employer.

Mortenson’s best-seller, Three Cups of Tea (2009), introduced his commitment to peace through education and became a book-club phenomenon. He now continues the story of how the Central Asia Institute (CAI) built schools in northern Afghanistan. Descriptions of the harsh geography and more than one near-death experience impress readers as new faces join Mortenson’s loyal “Dirty Dozen” as they carefully plot a course of school-building through the Badakshan province and Wakhan corridor. Mortenson also shares his friendships with U.S. military personnel, including Admiral Mike Mullen, and the warm reception his work has found among the officer corps. The careful line CAI threads between former mujahideen commanders, ex-Taliban and village elders, and the American soldiers stationed in their midst is poetic in its political complexity and compassionate consideration. Using schools not bombs to promote peace is a goal that even the most hard-hearted can admire, but to blandly call this book inspiring would be dismissive of all the hard work that has gone into the mission in Afghanistan as well as the efforts to fund it. Mortenson writes of nothing less than saving the future, and his adventure is light years beyond most attempts. Mortenson did not reach the summit of K2, but oh, the heights he has achieved. --Colleen Mondor of Booklist

Mrs. Mondor's review of the piece is dead on. But what I found particularly intriguing was the progress that was made since the first book was published. Stopping at the accomplishments detailed within Three Cups of Tea would be enough for Greg and his CAI counterparts to feel that have lived a worthy life of positive contribution to this world. However, to see how Three Cups of Tea has inspired people across the world while unifying people with seemingly incompatible views and beliefs is truly inspiring. I think the book speaks volumes in showing that a good idea founded on honorable principles can truly change the world even if it is one small step at a time.

I also really enjoyed the praise that Greg Mortenson gives the US troops. Not just because I am a military member, but because I think the work that our servicemen and women are doing often gets lost beneath the ever-present political banter of the major media outlets. Greg showcases how it was the military that first began embracing the Three Cups of Tea "education not bombs" strategy of eradicating extremism. And it wasn't the high profile Generals either. It was the everyday leaders of our nation's fighting force. A grass roots movement so to speak that has undoubtedly helped shape the strategy of our efforts overseas.

The book optimistically ends detailing that although there is a long way to go in that part of the world immense progress has been made with regard to education opportunities, especially for young girls. During a time where it is difficult to be anything but pessimistic about our politician's assessments of our nation's two wars it is good to see that some tangible gains have been made with regard to human progress. I highly recommend both books and offer my notes from Stones Into Schools below.

Forward by Khaled Hosseini:
- 8 years into war Afghanistan is considered a failing state but there are success stories as well and most meaningful is education
- 1/2 million children attending school and 40% are girls
- "If you educate a boy you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl you educate a community."

- Tells of Masreen, a Pakistani women, and her struggles to pursue education
- "When it comes down to it, I am nothing more than a fellow who took a wrong turn in the mountains and never quite managed to find his way home" - Greg Mortenson
- He has made more than 680 appearances in more than 270 cities in the last three years
- "When you hand this money over to the folks over there on the other side of the world," said one local businessman, who had tears in his eyes as he spoke, "just tell them that it comes from a little town in the mountains of Colorado so that their daughters can go to school."
- 1 year of education in primary school can result in an increase in income of 10-20% for women later in life
- Simply put, young woman are the single biggest potential agents of change in the developing world. A phenomenon that is sometimes referred to as the girl effect.
- In Muslim societies a person who has been manipulated into believing in extremist violence or terrorism often seeks the permission of his mother before he may join a militant jihad, and educated women as a rule tend to withhold their blessing.
- Taliban targets regions for recruitment where female literacy is low
- It is important to be clear about the fact that the aim of the Central Asia Institute is not indoctrination. We have no agenda other than assisting rural women with their two most frequent requests: "We don't want our babies to die, and we want our children to go to school."
- "In the end, the thing I care about, the flame that burns at the center of my work, the heat around which I cup my hands, are their stories." - Greg Mortenson
- "The first cup of tea you share with us, you are a stranger. The second cup, you are a friend. But with the third cup, you become family - and for our families we are willing to do anything, even die." - Haji Ali

Part I: The Premise:

- "The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all." - Aung San Suu Kyi

The People At The End Of The Road:
- "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve." - Albert Schweitzer
- They start at the end of the road and work their way back. Serve the most remote areas overlooked by other NGOs
- When ordinary human beings perform extraordinary acts of generosity, endurance, or compassion we are all made richer by their example
- Works alliances with anyone including Taliban and hires inexperienced based on gut instinct
- He learned it from his father who had done the same in Africa with a hospital

The Man With The Broken Hand:
- "Mountains can never reach each other despite their bigness. But humans can." - Afghan proverb
- Sarfraz Khan has a tough but incredible background
- Like everywhere else in Afghanistan, geography is far less important than relationships
- When you comprehend the dynamics of power, everything else falls into place
- "And so it was that our conversation on that snowy evening in Zuudkhan marked the beginning of the greatest friendship of my life." - Greg Mortenson
- "For me, a hard life is no problem. But for our children, this life is no good. We have little food, poor houses, and no school. We know you have been building schools in Pakistan, so will you come and build the same for us in Afghanistan? We will donate the land, the stones, the labor, everything that you ask. Come now and stay with us for the winter as our guest. We will take tea together. We will butcher our biggest sheep. We will discuss matters properly and we will plan a school." - Roshan Khan a Kirghiz rider
- Greg promises to build the Kirghiz a school way up in the Wakhan

The Zero Year:
- Of the many ways in which the Taliban perverted and brutalized the tenets of Islam, however, nothing quite matched the crimes that they visited upon their sisters, daughters, mothers, and wives
- Within the first week of taking Kabul the Taliban stripped away these privileges and summarily rendered the female population silent and invisible
- Winter 2002 = zero year in Afghanistan
- After 9/11 $680M in aide money promised by President Bush had been "redirected" to build runways and bulk up supply depots in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar for the upcoming invasion of Iraq. Afghanistan was now receiving less than a third of the per-capita assistance that had been plowed into reconstruction efforts in Bosnia, East Timor, or Rwanda, and of that less than half was going to long term development projects such as education.

The Sound Of Peace:
- Sarfraz delivered the hand recorded census of the Kirghiz and Greg appointed him the "most remote area project manager."
- "Look here. Look at these hills. There has been far too much dying in these hills. 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. We must turn these stones into schools." - Sadhar Khan
- "You may be a veteran but you are not a warrior because you have never fought in battle. Sitting here watching the water rush past is the only way that I can justify having gone to war. The reason I fought the Soviets and then the Taliban was for moments such as the one we're having right now. Unless you have been inside the fire of a battle, this is something that you will never understand." - Sadhar Khan

Style Is Everything:
- "War has forced us to starve not only our bodies but also our minds. This should never again happen to my people." - Sadhar Khan
- The pleading was always polite but the needs were endless
- Official paperwork was always a challenge due to the (lack of) Afghanistan's functioning government

The Seal Of The Kirghiz Khan:
- "But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, you can see the stars." - Martin Luther King Jr.
- In the 90's drug trade flourished to fund the mujahadeens war efforts. Eventually it began to infiltrate peasants and remote villages
- Up to 1/4 of the adult population were addicts
- Karzai made promises to Abdul Rashid Khan but didnt follow through
- The desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo had the entire region enraged. Proof that we are growing increasingly interconnected in this world
- Elders stopped the rioting and ransacking of the CAI school in Baharak. The elders claimed it as their school. They had ownership.

Qayamat (The Apocalypse) Part II:
A Dark and Distant Roar:
- Pakistan earthquake occurred on 8 Oct 2005
- In the past 50 years Pakistan has suffered through 4 wars, two political coups, floods, political assassinations, and other disruptions but never anything like the earthquake. 7.6 magnitude that triggered 2,252 landslides. Over 86,000 deaths making it the 12th most destructive earthquake of all time. A quarter of those deaths were children in school. Over 3,794 schools in Kashmir and 2,159 schools in the Northwest frontier were destroyed.

No Idea What To Do:
- CAI went to Kashmir to give aid after the quake
- US Chinook helicopters were helping the relief effort. "Sarfraz talked to some of the pilots and learned that those who had served in Iraq could not believe that the people of Pakistan actually liked them. In the coming years, many of these pilots and their crew members would look back upon those weeks as the highlight of their military careers."
- Islamic extremists were often better at aid than the various NGOs
- Combining aid with ideology was a highly effective strategy. "I have always been dismayed by the West's failure, or unwillingness, to recognize that establishing secular schools that offer children a balanced and non extremist form of education is probably the cheapest and most effective way of combating this kind of indoctrination." - Greg Mortenson

Farzana's Desks:
- "When you take the time to actually listen, with humility, to what people have to say, it's amazing what you can learn. Especially if the people who are doing the talking also happen to be children." - Greg Mortenson
- Greg's daughter tells him to start putting playgrounds in the schoolyards. He is amazed he hasn't thought of it.
- Taliban sympathizers even get a kick out of the playgrounds

Sarfraz's Promise:
- Sarfraz got an infection and had surgery
- Recruited Chinese to start building earthquake proof schools
- He was following in his father's footsteps without ever really intending to

The Chance That Must Be Taken:
- "History is a race between education and catastrophe." - H.G. Wells
- CAI started sponsoring girls for advanced education
- Often family and community object
- With the success of the first book Greg was travelling and fundraising nonstop. He crashed and had to return to home to rest. He became the fundraiser and sacrificed his trips to the schools, the thing he loved most.

Part III: The School On The Roof Of The World:
An Email From An American Colonel:

- "Education is the long term solution to fanaticism." - Colonel Christopher Kolenda
- "People in that part of the world are used to death and violence. And if you tell them 'We're sorry your father died, but he died a martyr so that Afghanistan could be free,' and if you offer them compensation and honor their sacrifice, I think that people will support us even now. But the worst thing you can do is what we're doing--ignoring the victims by calling them collateral damage and not even trying to count the numbers of the dead. Because to ignore them is to deny they ever existed, and there is no greater insult in the Islamic world. For that, we will not be forgiven." - Greg Mortenson
- "I'm no military expert and these figures might not be exactly right. But as best I can tell, we've launched 114 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan so far. Now take the cost of one of those missiles, tipped with a Raytheon guidance system, which I think is about $840,000. For that much money, you could build dozens of schools that could provide tens of thousands of students with a balanced non extremist education over the course of a generation. Which do you think will make us more secure?" - Greg Mortenson
- It was the American military officers who felt the US strategy needed to be revamped in both wars
- "We can't kill our way to victory." - Admiral Mike Mullen
- The military embraced Greg and Three Cups of Tea
- "More than almost any other profession I have encountered, members of the military seem willing to acknowledge their failures and mistakes and to recognize that this is the first step towards learning and growth." - Greg Mortenson

The Man From The Jalozai Refugee Camp:
- Locals went against the Taliban and had girls attend school
- Unknowingly the schools they built in Afghanistan formed an arc that pointed to the birthplace of the Taliban

Barnstorming Through Badakshan:
- Finally certified as an NGO in Afghanistan
- Honored by Musharraf of Pakistan. Ironic they have better relations with Pakistan than our own government
- Musharraf is impeached
- They met with Musharraf for more than 4 hours. "Most high level delegations, they only get very short meetings with Musharraf. The President of China --maybe 30 minutes. George Bush, maximum 15 minutes!" - Nazir
- "The contrast between my activities and those of most of my staff seemed to underscore an even larger problem: the extent to which I have been forced to pull away from the aspects of my work that I find personally and spiritually fulfilling in order to attend to what is generally referred to as 'the big picture.'" I have similar feelings with my own charity as I have been forced geographically to tend to the bigger picture without being heavily involved in the gratifying groundwork.

A Meeting Of Two Warriors:
- "The Muslim community is a subtle world we don't fully--and don't always-- attempt to understand. Only through a shared appreciation of people's culture, needs, and hopes for the future can we hope ourselves to supplant the extremist narrative. We cannot capture hears and minds. We must engage them; we must listen to them, one heart and one mind at a time." - Admiral Mike Mullen
- Started neighborhood literacy centers for older women and it exploded
- "Wakil quickly realized that this enthusiasm was the byproduct of taking a group of women who had been forced to lead restricted and sequestered lives, putting them into the same room, and simply giving them the license to dream."
- Admiral Mullen inaugurated one of the CAI schools

The Point Of Return:
- Back in the Kirghiz but can't figure out how to get supplies in
- "How do you build a school on the Roof of the World when transporting the construction materials from any direction is virtually impossible?"
- Greg slipped into an intense fever and is forced to return home short of the Kirghiz village

The Last Best School:
-Abdul Rashid Khan the leader of the Kirghiz fell ill. Greg broke his promise and asked the US military for help. It made its way all the way up to Gen Patraeus and McChrystal
- The mission was too close to China and too risky based on fuel
- "This was no the outcome I had hoped for, but as I read the General's message I also understood that it was the correct decision. Although the assessment team's calculus may have sounded somewhat cold, it underscored the most important question to ask: Would it be right to place the lives of two American helicopter crews on the line while risking international incident on behalf of a patient who was probably beyond help? In my heart, I knew that the answer was no." - Greg Mortenson

- "We live at the edge of the world, and since no help is going to arrive, we have no choice but to do this ourselves. This school is our priority. At this point, we have almost no resources left. But starting from this moment, everything that we have will be focused on one goal. Inshallah, we are going to finish what we have started." - Abdul Rashid Khan
- Nearly a decade after Greg's initial promise to the Kirghiz the school was finally finished
- "Like it or not, you see, my reasons for wanting to get a first hand glimpse of that gem of a school in the High Pamir are probably not compatible with the role that I played in its completion. Because when it really comes down to it, aside from the service that I performed as a kind of one man yak train that faithfully transported the donations of ordinary Americans to the far side of the world, what was accomplished at Bozai Gumbaz had nothing whatsoever to do with me. A fact that for a time, I must now admit, was not easy for me to accept." - Greg Mortenson
- "By succeeding at an endeavor in which a government, an army, and an NGO had failed, a band of impoverished nomads were able to construct, on the loftiest and most distant corner of their republic, something even greater than a school. They had raised a beacon of hope that called out not only to the Kirghiz themselves, but also to every village and town in Afghanistan where children yearn for education, and where fathers and mothers dream of building a school whose doors will open not only to their sons but also to their daughters. Including, and perhaps especially, those places that are surrounded by a ring of men with Kalashnikovs who help to sustain the grotesque lie that flinging battery acid into the face of a girl who longs to study arithmetic is somehow in keeping with the teachings of the Koran." - Greg Mortenson

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