Fresh Ideas: Lessons from 'Tea': Ignorance is the enemy

"If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not bombs."

- Greg Mortenson

This is the season of Peace on Earth, although it is difficult to keep that in our hearts when we are at war. It's also hard to imagine that anything we do in our daily lives has an impact on the unrest we see around the world.

I suggest reading "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time." Co-written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, "Three Cups of Tea" tells the inspiring story of Mortenson, who failed in a 1993 attempt at climbing K2, got lost and stumbled into Korphe, a remote Pakistani village. In the seven weeks it took him to recover, he witnessed the dire circumstances in which the villagers lived. He also observed children so eager to learn, they wrote their lessons with sticks in the dirt - even on days when the teacher did not show up.

In gratitude for the villagers' many kindnesses, Mortenson promised to return and build a school. Now, 16 years later, his Central Asia Institute has built over 100 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson says, "The enemy is ignorance." Children raised without knowledge or hopes of joining the modern world are more likely to fall victim to the teachings of Muslim extremists.

This not some Pollyanna notion with no basis in reality. "Three Cups of Tea" has been read by military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus, who advocates building relationships as part of the overall plan for peace. It is required reading for U.S. senior military commanders, U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan and Pentagon officers. It is also Carson City Library's choice for its Capital City Reads promotion in early 2010. Mortenson will speak here March 9.

Since the book came out in 2003, it has been adapted for young readers and even made into a beautiful picture book entitled "Listen to the Wind."

"Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan" was just released and focuses on Greg's continuing efforts.

"Three Cups of Tea" refers to a Pakistani proverb: The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you become a friend. The third time you become family.

There are enormous obstacles to becoming such a family, but Greg Mortenson proves it is possible.

Perhaps if we can sit down and enjoy a third cup of tea with each other, we can make peace on Earth more than a Christmas wish. We can make it reality.

• Lorie Schaefer is a retired teacher.


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