I’m trying to catch up on my book reviews, books I thought worth recommending to others.
3 Cups of Tea:
Greg Mortensen is a mountain climber who failed to climb Everest and then became friends with a small village who nursed him back to health on his trip down. He later decided to build a school there for the children, the first school for the village. After that success he began a program to build many schools all across the Pakistan and Afghanistan region, many specifically for girls who could not get an education otherwise. It’s about making things go right (eventually) in chaotic and difficult circumstances.
I particularly enjoyed the character study of Greg- perfect example of someone with good intention trying to make it go by willpower alone, no concept or skill at administration or coordination, just brute enthusiasm and determination. You can get a long way on that, but he really began to grow in his ability to have an effect once he accumulated allies and people who admired what he was doing so much that they began to lend a hand, and particularly once he allowed people to take control and delegate some responsibility to them.
The other really interesting detail is just how much money other groups are throwing into the region, on less ethical goals. Two groups, really: the US military, and the Islamic fundamentalists. The military was bringing in huge money to Afghansistan and to the Pakistani government, but typically in the form of weapons and munitions. The amount of money for infrastructure or health was pretty minimal. Also, a lot of that money was covert during the Cold War, so the people receiving weapons did so from black market contacts or straight up criminals, never knowing to thank the US or thinking this was conditional upon human rights or anything else.
The Islamic fundamentalists were really interesting; they hailed commonly from Saudi Arabia, and would arrive with suitcases full of cash to build schools by the hundreds. These schools are called madrassas, and teach both religion intensively and general education. Many of these religious schools were much like our Catholic schools- run for and paid by Catholics, but focusing on general education. However, the other schools were used as recruiting grounds for radical islamic groups, and most of the terrorists under Al Qaida were recruited or trained in these madrassas. The Islamic leaders did something else very clever- they watched for the best and brightest among the students and sent them to religious college in Saudi Arabia, then returned them home again, wealthy and educated, with the command to acquire multiple wives and many children. They are planning on the long game, winning by population control alone.
I’d never heard of this angle on global politics before.
But political commentary aside, 3 Cups of Tea is a bluntly written but inspiriting story, and Greg Mortenson is worthy of praise for his educational efforts.