Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson
Stones Into Schools is Greg Mortenson's sequel novel to the best selling Three Cups of Tea. The book tells the story of Mortenson’s quest to build schools in the remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan with the goal of educating the youth of these regions, especially the girls. Mortenson, who first becomes interested in building schools in Pakistan after getting lost on a journey back from climbing K2, tends to also get lost in the story he is telling. While the purpose of this book is to show the need and process of building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the book is more about the history of the country and its peoples and less about school building. Mortenson does get to the point eventually and while he does take the long way to get there, like hiking through the Karakoram Mountains, it is a very captivating scenic route. Reading about the history and culture of these peoples is amazingly fascinating and the pages of the book seem to fly by. On many occasions I would look down at the page number I was on and realize that I had read 30-50 pages in about half the time it would usually take me.
Whereas Three Cups of Tea focused on the building of his first school in Pakistan, Stones Into Schools now sees the CAI (Central Asia Institute) as an establish NGO in the region and moving to expand into Afghanistan. Afghanistan, as you may or may not have imagined, is a far different animal than Pakistan. The red tape is blinding, the corruption is crippling, tribal strife is astounding, and the threat of death and kidnapping is seemingly constant. At one point Mortenson writes about how he and a driver had to pull over into a ditch at the side of a road until a gun fight between two rival drug cartels had passed.
Though it is not explicitly referred to, you come away from this book being very impressed with the hard work and sacrifices made by Mortenson and the staff of the CAI. I could not imagine leaving my family for as long as he does, traveling the tens of thousands of miles to and from these countries, and the constant threat of death he goes through on an almost daily basis while in that region.
Stones Into Schools is a definite must read. The book leaves you feeling cautiously optimistic about the future of the region. On one hand you have great charity organizations such as Mortenson's CAI and the knowledge that the people of the region are craving the building of schools and have the passion to educate the boys and girls of their villages. However, you also have corrupt politicians blocking construction, the strong influence of radical Islamic groups such as the Taliban, and the general indifference and short attention span of much of the world's population to the real issues of this region. It is impossible to read this book and be deaf to the call to action either abroad or right here at home.
Central Asia Institute Home Page:
Charity Navigator Info on CAI: