Assalaam Alaikum (Peace Be With You)

This is an LDS feminist group blog. Hardly the forum to talk about men’s accomplishments. However, every once in a while, there is a male feminist whose vision and accomplishments capture the essence of what we’re trying to achieve.

Greg Mortenson. Army medic. Trauma nurse. Mountaineer. In 1993, he made an attempt to climb K2, the second highest peak in the world, in the mountainous region of Karakorum in Pakistan. Had to abort his summit attempt to emergently rescue one of his team members. In the aftermath of the descent, he got separated from his guide and wandered off-track. He eventually made it to the remote village of Korphe, and was taken in and cared for during his own recovery. Grateful for their generosity, he promised to return and build a school for the village children. He had no idea that this would become his life’s work.

Back in the US, Mortenson began from scratch. In a rather unfruitful fundraising attempt, he began a one person letter writing campaign and prepared presentations for largely miniscule audiences. It was hard going until he received a large gift from Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer and fellow climber, that allowed him to return to Korphe and keep his promise.

Hoerni later set up the Central Asia Institute, making Mortenson the first executive director. The latest figures are that the institute is running 61 schools, 52 in Pakistan and nine in Afghanistan, servicing 25,000 students, of which 15,000 are girls. The CAI is expanding their operation at approximately ten schools a year.

Mortenson collaborated with journalist David Oliver Relin to write the NY Times best seller Three Cups of Tea, which chronicles his work with the CAI. And while the book is rife with dangerous escapades. armed kidnapping in Waziristan and opium war crossfire in Afghanistan to name a few, the most amazing parts are much more personal. Whole communities banding together to build schools for their young ones (communities must equal the CAI funds with local resources and labor). Community and vocational centers for women. Girls in classrooms learning to read and write. One of the first female graduates stepping forward in a village meeting to speak about her dreams and aspirations.

Mortenson has a directed agenda to educate young girls in these rural areas. Villages must contract to increase female studentship before a school will be built. He has said, “You can hand out condoms, build roads, put in electricity, but until girls and women are empowered through education, a society will not change.”

Over the years, Mortenson has come to the conclusion that education is the key to fighting extremist fundamentalism. He saw how foreign funded, extremist madrassas became an appealing path to those with limited options. He’s seen how balanced education not only provides more options to children, but also how his work helps combat anti-American prejudice in politically charged nations. He’s been called on to share his expertise with audiences on Capital Hill, the Pentagon, the Department of Defense and the US State Department.

Over the years, CAI projects have expanded to include other sustainable initiatives. There are porter training programs; women and children’s health programs; education scholarships; water, sanitation and latrine projects; and rural health care camps.

To find out more, visit the Central Asia Institute website.


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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7 Responses

  1. fMhArtemis says:

    This is awesome, Dora. Thank you!

  2. queen serene says:

    Loved the book. Made me want to get off my butt and do something.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Deborah says:

    Someone gave his book to my husband last month, and it’s been kicking around the living room. Looks like I’ll be picking it up . . .

  4. Dora says:

    After 9/11, Mortenson actually received threatening hate mail from small-minded patriots who couldn’t comprehend how charity opens the door for further discourse. With all the rhetoric regarding the war on terror, Mortenson is doing more to conquer prejudice and hatred with service and good will, than our armies are doing with bullets and missiles.

    The week after I read this book, I read _When the Emperor Was Divine,_ by Julie Otsuka. I was reminded of the grave danger of alienating others based on issues of race. Regardless of the situation in Guantanamo, it would be impossible to round up everyone who appears Muslim or middle eastern and place them in concentration camps. We’ve just got to get past the ignorance of fear.

  5. Tatiana says:

    This is the coolest thing! I totally want to participate in some way in this enterprise. I guess I could give them some money, neh?

  6. Caroline says:

    Dora, thanks for writing about this. This is totally inspiring.

  7. Tatiana says:

    I gave them money and they sent me some very cool pictures. 🙂

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