Editorial : A charity questioned - Monday 25th April 2011

GREG Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea and the man who turned girls` education in Afghanistan and Pakistan into a pet cause for the West, is now being accused of fabricating elements of his story about his time in Pakistan and misusing funds belonging to his charity, which sets up schools in the two countries. Rarely does an independent humanitarian receive the attention Mr Mortenson has; he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, top US military commanders have sought his advice about interacting with Afghans, and his book is required reading for American soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. Donations to his charity include $100,000 from President Obama`s Nobel Peace Prize grant. For so many people to have potentially misjudged the man is cause for concern. For one, it points to the difficulty of channelling aid effectively. The claim that more than half his charity`s budget does not end up being used to build schools is reminiscent of concerns about development work sponsored by NGOs, foreign governments and multilateral organisations. Allegations that many schools he claims to have built are not functioning or not supported by him points to the importance of verifying the progress of such efforts. The tale also cautions against the way that media hype can result in enormous focus being lavished on certain causes without enough examination of their impact. The Pakistani media, for its part, took for granted the publicity created in the US about Mr Mortenson, who has received the Sitara-i-Pakistan. Ironically, it took another American to unearth potential fraud taking place in our own country.
That said, it would be unfortunate if the bursting of the Mortenson bubble affects education as a cause, especially for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would also be a shame if his downfall discourages donations to humanitarian and civilian interventions. A military solution is not enough to address the conflict across the border and in parts of our own country, and the Mortenson story should serve as a warning to hold development work to stringent standards rather than a reason to abandon the cause itself.

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/25/a-charity-questioned.html

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