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Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time    by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin order for
Three Cups of Tea
by Greg Mortenson
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Many feel frustrated when contemplating world problems, wishing they could do something on an individual basis, other than donating to organizations with high overheads. Greg Mortenson - who personally raised funds to build a school in a small Pakistani village and participated hands-on all the way - has shown us that an individual can make a huge difference. But it clearly requires the kind of drive, stamina and willingness to sacrifice personal goals, of which very few people are capable. Mortensen's exceptional and inspiring story is told in Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time, co-authored with David Oliver Relin.

Mortensen grew up in Tanzania (where his father fundraised for and founded the country's first teaching hospital), later trained as a U.S. army medic, and worked in emergency medicine in the United States, spending all his spare time mountaineering. In 1993, he joined a group attempting to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in Pakistan's Karakoram. After giving up on the summit to help save a fellow climber, he became ill and lost on the descent and ended up in the Pakistani village of Korphe, whose people shared what little they had with him while he recovered from the debilitating climb. The village had no school and children studied out in the open, sharing a teacher who visited only three days a week. Mortensen promised to build them a school - and kept his word.

The book goes on to describe the marathon effort - and the sacrifices - required to make it happen. Key funding was provided by a fellow climber, semiconductor magnate Dr. Jean Hoerni, who took a strong interest in the progress of that first school and, when he died, left an endowment of almost a million dollars to found the Central Asia Institute, in order to build more. Many individuals in Pakistan actively supported Mortensen's efforts while a few tried to stop him - at one point a crooked mullah issued a fatwa against him. He was kidnapped in Waziristan and when he was released nine days later, his captors pressed donations on him for the schools. Mortensen continued his work in Pakistan after 9/11, when the region grew more dangerous for Americans, and later expanded into Afghanistan.

In his Introduction, David Oliver Relin tells readers that Mortensen '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 ... Mortensen 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.' Mortensen himself tells us that village elder 'Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.'

All of us can learn a great deal from what Greg Mortensen did, and what he himself learned along the way. If you read only one book this year, make it Three Cups of Tea.

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