Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Winning Pakistani hearts and minds: 1 school at a time

A few months back, I wrote about a 60 Minutes story about 13 NYC paramedics that volunteered to help out a Pakistani community after the devastating earthquake last year and how one of them said:
We can inoculate an entire valley, if we're lucky, against radical Islam," says Muth. "And it's so simple. I'm just a paramedic. It's just a bandage. It's not a $100 million dollar ad campaign from Madison Avenue. It's not, you know, it's not complicated. Could something work better to change somebody's mind? I can't think of anything."

Well, in the midst of all of the horrific news and fuckups that have been going on, another "feel good" story has emerged about one individual who founded the Central Asia Institute, which has built 55 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, changing the residents' views of Americans.

The story actually began back in 1993, and is outlined in Greg Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea.
In 1993, Greg Mortenson became very ill when climbing Mt. K2, the world's second tallest mountain, in the Himalayas. As he recovered for seven weeks in the small Pakistani village of Korphe, he was so touched by their kindness he received he vowed to return to build their fist school. This led to the founding of the Central Asia Institute, which has built 55 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson tells his story in "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations… One School at a Time," which he wrote along with journalist David Oliver Relin, and everything he went through to acheive his goal of bringing education to a place rampant with Anti-Americanism.

Much like the 60 Minutes story from last November, the story focuses on efforts by an American who, well, is just acting like a real human being. Or that "compassionate" human being that Dear Leader pretends to be. It just shows how bad our image is around the world, especially in this region of the world, as well as how one person's actions can change hundreds or even thousands of people's views of what us Real Americans are all about. The ABC article has an excerpt from the book and is a long but worth the time read. However, I have included a few snippets below from Mortensen's co-author, David Oliver Relin:
I listened to hundreds of Mortenson's allies and enemies. And in the interest of security and/or privacy I've changed a very few names and locations.

Together, as we sorted through thousands of slides, reviewed a decade's worth of documents and videos, recorded hundreds of hours of interviews, and traveled to visit with the people who are central to this unlikeliest of narratives, we brought this book to life.

And as I found in Pakistan, Mortenson's Central Asia Institute does, irrefutably, have the results. In a part of the world where Americans are, at best, misunderstood, and more often feared and loathed, this soft-spoken, six-foot-four former mountaineer from Montana has put together a string of improbable successes. Though he would never say so himself, he has single-handedly changed the lives of tens of thousands of children, and independently won more hearts and minds than all the official American propaganda flooding the region.

So this is a confession: Rather than simply reporting on his progress, I want to see Greg Mortenson succeed. I wish him success because he is fighting the war on terror the way I think it should be conducted. Slamming over the so-called Karakoram "Highway" in his old Land Cruiser, taking great personal risks to seed the region that gave birth to the Taliban with schools, Mortenson goes to war with the root causes of terror every time he offers a student a chance to receive a balanced education, rather than attend an extremist madrassa.

So how much goodwill did Condi's Middle East tour or the millions given to Karen Hughes for her "we really don't suck as bad as you think even though we bomb you, lie to the world and invade your countries" propoganda-fest? Who says that one person can't make a difference? Especially since there has to be a lot of these "one person" stories to counteract the total disaster created by those who are the official faces and names that represent We the People.

No comments: