The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Author shares stories with University

Greg Mortenson, has worked in Pakistan in
Afghanistan, setting up schools and promoting
education for young children. He
chronicled his work in his best-selling
book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission
to Promote Peace…One School at a
Time. He spoke to St. John’s about his experiences
Jan. 26.

TORCH: How was your treatment in
Pakistan and Afghanistan when you were
there and how has it changed over the
years when you’ve gone back?

Mortenson: Most people there are
very compassionate.

I only had one bad experience when I
was kidnapped in July of 1996. I was in Wazirstan,
which in the North Western Frontier
Province of Pakistan. I went into a
tribal area without asking for permission,
and what happened was I got kidnapped.
I was detained for eight days by the Taliban.
I didn’t ask permission to come
in and be with them, I was actually looking
for a place to build a school. I wasn’t
treated very well.

In comparison, since 9/11 I’ve gotten
a fair amount of hate mail and death
threats from Americans. They called me
a traitor to the country because I’m helping
Muslims; but what I say is that, no
matter where you are, the real enemy is
ignorance.

TORCH: What were the young people
that you helped build schools for like?

Mortenson: It’s so exciting to see the
tenacity and fierce desire for education in
Afghanistan. This is something very few
Americans know about. The most exciting
news to come out of the country is
that in 2000, before 9/11, there were
800,000 people in school, mostly boys, in
Afghanistan.

Now, there are 8.4 million children in
school in Afghanistan. And 2.5 million
of those are female, which is the greatest
increase in school enrollment in modern
history. What is interesting is very few
Americans are aware of that, but the bad
news is that in the last three years the
Taliban has bombed and destroyed about
2,000 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

TORCH: Did you ever see yourself as
a best-selling author?

Mortenson: I’m actually a pretty shy
person. I grew up in Africa. I don’t really
consider myself a writer. What I really
love is storytelling and the tradition of
learning from our elders.

I’ve really started trying to encourage
kids from the U.S. to do storytelling.
How many of you have spent a lot of time
talking to your grandparents? The average
in the U.S. is about 10 percent.

If you ask that same question in Pakistan
or Afghanistan, then 90 percent of
the kids put their hands up. I think that is
one of the great tragedies of our society
– we’ve lost the tradition where we can
learn from our elders about our heritage,
culture or folklore.

TORCH: What are your goals for the
Central Asia Institute and Pennies for
Peace, considering the current economic
situation?

Mortenson: Our support has really
gone up every year. Even since the
economic crisis, it has gone up 20 percent.
Most of our support is grassroots; it
comes from average people.

I have three goals for the organizations.
One is that in five years from now
our organizations will be running entirely
on their own.

I would also like to set up kind of a
global portal, because there are a lot of
women that graduate from high school
and then fall into the cracks. They fall
into slave trafficking or indenturement
and they don’t have that opportunity to
fulfill their dreams.

So, I was thinking about setting up,
I mean anybody could do it, you could
do it, a global portal where you could
go online and find a woman in, say, Bolivia,
Cambodia, Sudan, and you could
help them with there education with very
little overhead, in order to help especially young
women to graduate and go on with their
dreams.

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