Greg Mortenson: Author, humanitarian champions Carson library
Of the estimated 1,200 shows Greg Mortenson has given across the country, he had never done one in a casino before his presentation Tuesday at the Carson Nugget.
“To me it doesn’t matter if it’s a church or a casino or a military base,” he said. “If you’re promoting literacy or literature, I’m happy to do it.”
Mortenson, co-author of the best-selling “Three Cups of Tea” and author of “Stones Into Schools,” brought his message of building peace through education to an audience of about 800 people in Carson City as part of the Capital City Reads Initiative.
The community reading project encouraged residents to read “Three Cups of Tea,” Mortenson’s story of traveling to Pakistan to climb K2 in memory of his sister, Christa, who died from epilepsy in 1992.
Lost and fatigued, he didn’t summit the peak, but found his way to the tiny village of Korphe where he was nursed back to health. While there, he saw children doing school work with sticks in the dirt. He vowed to return to build a school.
He has since helped to build 131 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, educating 58,000 students, 44,000 of them girls.
He applauded plans for a downtown library in Carson City, citing that as the reason he agreed to visit the capital city out of the more than 2,000 requests he gets annually.
“I would be so thrilled if my visit could bring awareness and encouragement to the community here to get their library started,” he said. “I’d be very happy to be a champion and an advocate for that.”
He said the area also brings back special memories for him of traveling with Christa to visit places like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park.
He pointed to the role of books and libraries in his own life, remembering how he used a flashlight to read under his covers after his 8 p.m. bedtime as a boy growing up in Tanzania. When he was 9, his father gave him a copy of “Reverence for Life,” by Albert Schweitzer where he learned a respect for all living creatures from people to animals to plants.
“I’m a passionate reader,” he said. “A lot of my ideas and understandings have been formulated by reading books.”
Libraries again played an important role in his life when he returned from his first trip to Pakistan, having dedicated himself to building a school there. He went to the library to look up names and addresses of celebrities who he thought might contribute to his campaign.
“My father always told me to go to the library if you don’t know something,” he explained.
Mortenson also established a Pennies for Peace program where students can raise money by collecting pennies for whatever cause they would like, including for the Central Asia Institute, which supports building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Last year, the program was in 280 schools. This year, 4,900 schools participated.
Seeliger Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Patrick Flynn, who read the book as part of the community read, organized a Pennies for Peace fundraiser for the institute at his school.
“I was immediately inspired after reading his book to do something,” Flynn said. “And that something was over 100,000 pennies.”
He presented a $1,004.73 check to Mortenson.
“It’s far beyond $1,000,” Flynn said. “It builds in the students a sense of ownership, a sense of optimism in them that they do have the power to change their world.”
Terryn Earle, 10, a Seeliger fourth-grader, also was on hand to make the presentation.
“Building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan for all students is very good,” she said. “Without schools, they wouldn’t know what to do with their lives and they become terrorists.”
Patrick McAllister, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Carson Montessori School, helped organize a Pennies for Peace campaign last year at his school. He brought his book Tuesday to be autographed.
“I like that it’s a true story. It’s very cool and exciting,” he said. “(Mortenson) is great, good, awesome.”
Mortenson said he is humbled by the success of his books and of his message of using books rather than bombs to establish peace across the world.
“I’m just a shy guy – a dad and a husband,” he said. “Just a normal guy.”
When not on tour, he said, he’s dedicated to his family, spending every Saturday he’s home at the library with his two children. Tuesdays are reserved for date nights with his wife.
It was Mortenson’s wife that La Tea Da Tea Shop owner Rosemary Nebesky was thinking of when she presented him with a tiny teapot pendant.
“It’s for your long-suffering wife, I told him,” she said.
For Library Director Sara Jones, the night was a culmination of months of hard work by library staff and community partners.
“Wow, is all I can say,” she said, looking out at the audience gathered in the upstairs ballroom of the Nugget. “To have Greg Mortenson come and talk about a new library and a new future for Carson City is so exciting. It’s just fabulous.”