Greg Mortenson has a had a very rich, eventful life so far. Not only has he become a published author, but he has traveled across the world to fight for women’s educational rights. He has won numerous awards for his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including The Sitara-e-Pakistan, meaning “The Star of Pakistan.”
It is one of Pakistan’s highest civil awards and was presented to Mortenson in 2009 for his aid in promoting education and literacy over the last 15 years. In both 2008 and 2009, bipartisan U.S. Congressional representatives nominated Mortenson for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“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,” Mortenson said.
“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.”
Mortenson described his philosophy on social reform, necessary to promote education in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, which prompted him to work toward making changes in these regions.
“In the last three years the Taliban has bombed and destroyed about 2,000 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Mortenson said. “What they’re really afraid of is not a bullet, but a pen.”
Tuesday, Jan. 26, in Carnesecca Arena, Greg Mortenson shared his experience working in this region. Based on his best-selling book, Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson’s lecture at St. John’s centered upon the spirit of service and helping those who are unable to help themselves.
Three Cups of Tea is required reading for U.S. Special Forces that deploy to Afghanistan, U.S. senior military commanders and officers in counter-insurgency training.
Additionally, the book has started to become required reading for classes at universities across the nation.
According to Tiffany Tomlin, senior manager of the Penguin Group Speakers Bureau, Three Cups of Tea has been adopted by 110 schools.
One school has already adopted Stones Into Schools, the sequel to Three Cups of Tea, for a specialized reading program.
In addition to his writing, Mortenson co-founded the nonprofit organization Central Asia Institute and founded Pennies for Peace.
“We’re trying to build walls around America because we think that safety and freedom is building walls and we can’t do that. If you fight terrorism, it’s based in fear, but promoting peace is based in hope,” Mortenson said.
Since his humanitarian efforts began more than a decade ago, Mortenson has established 131 schools in regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan where few opportunities for education existed before. Roughly 58,000 children are able to attend schools that did not exist before Mortenson’s philanthropy.
“I still think there’s a lot of work to get done. I find it very disheartening, even in our country, that there is so little of our funds and monies being put into education,” Mortenson said.
Even with numerous awards and accomplishments to his name, Mortenson remains motivated and forwardthinking about his goals for the future.
“The challenge I see is not what I’ve accomplished, but rather the other half of the glass,” Mortenson said. “My goal is that every single child on this planet can go to school.”
When asked what advice he could give to St. John’s students in their own service projects, Mortenson advocated starting small.
“Find something you’re passionate about, don’t just do something to do something,” Mortenson said. “Do one good deed a day, you have to make it a habit. Philanthropy is not helping people, its empowering people, and there’s really a big difference.”