Last Saturday, a sold out audience at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall listened intently as author and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), Greg Mortenson, explained his innovative approach of building peace through education.
Mortenson began dedicating his life to expanding education opportunities to the children, especially girls, of the remote mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1993. He had become lost and disoriented after a failed climb up the K2 Mountain in the Himalayas. He wandered into a remote village and the villagers saved his life. When he learned their village had no school, he promised that he would come back to build them one.
In order to fulfill his promise, Mortenson founded the CAI in 1993, which has helped establish over 78 schools in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He explained that international studies have shown by educating girls to at least the fifth grade level would help “reduce infant mortality, help reduce the world’s population, explosion and improve the basic qualities of health and of life itself.”
Pennies For Peace is a program that is part of the CAI and helps raise the money to establish the schools. It helps children to become philanthropists by donating their pennies for peace, and also incorporates a curriculum for cultural education that can be used by teachers. It also raises money for schools from other sources. Thirty-two countries are now participating in the Pennies for Peace program.
Mortenson has also written a book Three Cups of Tea in an adult and young reader version and a picture book, Listen to the Wind for younger children is about his life changing experience back in Pakistan and his work for peace. The title for the book was chosen, explained Mortenson, because in Pakistan the first cup of tea you have with someone is as a stranger, the second cup is as a friend and the third cup is as family. His book is now required reading for all commanders in the United States military who are receiving counter intelligence training.
Mortenson also discussed his opposition to the build up of the troops in Afghanistan that the United States is currently engaging in. He stated that in his view “fighting terror is based on fear and promoting peace is based on hope.” One way to give hope to the children of Central Asia is to educate them so they will have alternatives to the cycle of terrorism and war.
Before Mortenson’s remarks, children from schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, other nearby districts, and area private schools presented Mortenson and his two children with checks for the pennies their schools had collected as part of their January Pennies for Peace campaign.
Mortenson has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Further information can be found at penniesforpeace.org, threecupsoftea.com, and ikat.org.