Stones Into Schools


Book Tour for Greg Mortenson touches Seattle

John Erik Stacy 5 Dec 2009

Talk at SPU describes education need and payoff in rural Pakistan and Afganistan

Greg Mortenson, author of the highly influential book on Afghanistan “Three Cups of Tea” was in Seattle on Tuesday, Dec 15 to speak and promote his cause for education and his latest book titled “Stones Into Schools” at Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Brougham Pavilion. Mr. Mortensen spoke for about an hour on the importance of education for building peace in war-torn countries in general and Afghanistan in particular. He described the efforts of the organization he leads known as the Central Asia Institute (or CAI) who have to date organized local communities to build more than a 130 schools in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mortenson is particularly interested in the education of girls. In his talk he noted that girls tend to teach others in the family how to read, including their own mothers (female literacy rates are extremely low in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan). He also emphasized the importance of having school building projects be directed locally by village elders such that these grow within existing structures of community authority that the schools will serve. And he pointed out that schools are not just buildings but also teachers and community “buy in.”


Mortenson’s work and writings have been extremely important. His book “Three Cups of Tea” has become required reading for US military planners working in Afghanistan. His philosophy regarding military engagement in the region is reflected in his statement: “You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but unless the girls are educated, a society won’t change.” He described how the publishers of “Three Cups of Tea” wanted to subtitle the book “One man’s mission to fight against terrorism and build school at a time” rather than his preference “One man’s mission to build peace one school at a time.” The publishers argued that Mortenson was new to the publishing game with his first book, and that “fighting terror” would help sell his book. In the end he conceded to the “fight” subtitle, but haggled in Afghan style that, if the hard-cover printing did not do well, he would have his subtitle on the paper back. The hard cover did not do well, but the paperback, with his subtitle, is a #1 New York Times bestseller.

Mountain-climber with Minnesota roots, missionary parents and Army service

Mr. Mortenson served in the US army himself in the late 1970s. A son of the midwest, he was born in St. Cloud, MN, went to Concordia College and graduated from the University of South Dakota. But his parents were missionary types and helped to found the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in Tanzania. This meant that he spent a good portion of his childhood in Africa. His early years undoubtedly helped shape the man’s attitude and openness to other cultures and ways of thinking. “Three Cups of Tea” tells his story, bringing us through the tragic loss of his sister and his fateful decision – leading to his impassioned commitment to the mountain villages of Afghanistan and Pakistan – to climb K2 in her honor. “Stones Into Schools” continues that story to describe the schools created and lives touched by this exceptional man.

This article was originally published in the Dec. 25, 2009 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email

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