Greg Mortenson touches 800 hearts at U.N. conference

By Berit Hessen
Norwegian American Weekly
Mortensen (center) is the co-founder of the non-profit Central Asia Institute (CAI), whose mission is to encourage and support community-based education, especially for girls, in war-torn and remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg Mortenson and students from Sitara (‘star’) school, Sarhad village, Wakhan corridor, Northeast Afghanistan 2005. Photo:

The Committee on Teaching About the United Nations (CTAUN) held its 11th annual conference on January 30, at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the theme was “Protecting Human Rights, The United Nations – Our Schools.” The keynote speaker was the highly respected humanitarian Greg Mortenson.

The conference brought together 800 people; educators and administrators, as well as concerned citizens. The interesting and informative program illustrated ways of promoting an understanding of human rights. CTAUN, founded in 1996, provides educators worldwide with opportunities to learn about the work of the United Nations and incorporate global awareness into curricula and school activities. Anne-Marie Carlson, a Norwegian American who grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, has served as chair of CTAUN since 2003. Prior to this important job, Anne-Marie, worked as an elementary school teacher and reading specialist for thirty years.

Soft-Spoken humanitarian

The conference included prominent speakers from the U.N. and other leading organizations. The highlight of the event was a heartwarming and inspirational speech by Greg Mortenson (51), who has for over fifteen years dedicated his life to promote peace and helping people out of poverty.

Mortenson is the co-founder of the non-profit Central Asia Institute (CAI), which mission is to encourage and support community-based education, especially for girls, in war-torn and remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. So far his organization has built more than 78 schools, where no education opportunities existed before.  “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a community,” Mortenson explained. Giving girls access to education has a direct effect on the recruitment efforts of extremist organizations.

“Educated mothers are less likely to give permission if the group has militant ties,” said the soft-spoken humanitarian.

Greg Mostenson. Photo By Berit Hessen

Greg Mortenson at the U.N. Photo By Berit Hessen

Mortenson has inspired young people to form their own charitable foundations. More than 3,000 schools, around the world, have participated in CAI’s program “Pennies for Peace.”

Three Cups of Tea

Mortenson’s initial development efforts were first inspired in 1993, by Pakistanis who helped him after a failed attempt to summit K2, the world’s second highest mountain. The climb was dedicated to his sister Christa, who had just died from severe epilepsy. He describes his life-changing journey in the New York Times bestseller “Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time.” Greg signed his book, which was co-written by David Oliver Relin, and given out to all the attendees at the conference.

Mortenson told the Weekly “Three Cups of Tea” is required reading at The Norwegian Military Academy (Krigsskolen) at Linderud in Oslo. This unique book has truly captured hearts all over the world.

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

Mortenson, who lives in Montana, with his wife and two children, was born in Minnesota to missionary parents. His ancestors came from Lofoten, Norway – something he is very proud of. He told the Weekly he was looking forward to returning to Norway in May, to attend the “Oslo International Freedom Forum.”

On Jan. 7, Mortenson was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, in a bipartisan, bicameral effort led by members of the U.S. Congress.

“Greg Mortenson is a remarkable man, whose leadership, passion, and character is truly transforming lives and inspiring millions,” said Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack.

“I am deeply honored to have known Greg for many years and am proud of everything he has accomplished thus far. One of the most humble people I know, Greg is a living hero and his dedication to peace is truly changing the world. I am proud to nominate this most-worthy individual for this high honor,” said Bone Mack, who wrote the nomination letter to The Norwegian Nobel Committee.

This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly on Feb. 17, 2009.  For more information and to subscribe, call us toll-free at (800) 305-0217 or email

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