Tashakkur, Greg! - Sadaf Shahid - Thursday, April 28, 2011

“Terror doesn’t happen because some group of people somewhere . . . simply decide to hate [others]. It happens because children aren’t being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death.”

– Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea)

It was the fall of 2010 when Ali flew with his parents to the United States to join the undergrad programme at one of the most prestigious universities. At orientation, he was the only Pakistani in that batch. As parents and students exchanged greetings, the ‘Pakis’ could feel an unmistakable coolness and reserve towards them. This display of aloofness was quickly turning the excitement of studying in a foreign university to unease, even fear. And then Ali heard a friendly voice boom from across the room, “Are you from the areas where Greg Mortenson has built his schools? I have been working for ‘Pennies for Peace’”. She was his roommate’s mother. “That’s right, from the same country, but his schools are farther in the North” The ice broken, everyone gathered round to hear more about the country Greg Mortenson has made famous for the right reasons.

“Dr Mortenson has done what most Pakistanis couldn’t. Thousands of young boys and girls are studying in his schools. The area has recently been hit by the worst floods and CAI is helping the IDP’s to restart their lives, without having their education affected. When I go home this winter, I too will do whatever little I can. Greg Mortenson has been my inspiration.”

As many parents and students got involved in the conversation, people from the two countries, whose relationship vacillates from cooperation to discord, found a connection through one man’s epic struggle. Areas ravaged by terrorism and natural disaster, unvisited, unknown and abandoned by its own inhabitants is what Greg Mortenson proudly calls ‘His Pakistan’

Three Cups of Tea, by Dr Greg Mortenson and co author David Oliver Relin, is a story of metamorphosis that has taken place in a remote land known more for its terrorism and rugged terrain than anything else. The transformation commenced with Dr Greg’s promise to build a school for the children of Korphe, whom he found writing with sticks on snow covered land under the open skies, living in abject poverty and still singing the national anthem and praying for the prosperity of Pakistan. He took up the task of building schools for a civilisation where the previous three generations had been deprived of education and there was no hope of getting any form of education in the near future.

I don’t know Greg Mortenson and have never met him, though I would dearly like to. I have only known him through his books and through people he has transformed. Young, well educated Pakistanis after seeing his work have joined philanthropic organisations and are putting in their bit. I have travelled to Baltistan and to some of the areas where Dr Greg has done his work. The tough circumstances people live in are unimaginable. The three cups of tea that Greg had with Haji Ali, was not only to join their families, but to open the doors of peace and progress for the people of Korphe. There must have been something special about Greg that the reclusive people, who have always strictly guarded their culture, opened their hearts and homes for the man who made miracles happen.

Unfortunately, this same man is now under fire. The TV programme ‘60 minutes’ was extremely disappointing. Mortenson’s first encounter with the people of Korphe is being called a ‘lie’ (Jon Krakaeur in 60 minutes). Greg Mortenson explains it as a “compressed version of the event” (Bozeman Chronicle). Everyone would agree with Ethan Casey, the author of ‘Alive and Well in Pakistan’ and ‘Overtaken by Events’ that it is a ‘non issue’. He further mentions in his article, “Any writer has the right to shape material”. Authors are entitled to similar license and that doesn’t make the account a ‘lie’

Questions have been raised about the salary drawn by Greg Mortenson as executive director of CAI, the funds collected from book signing ceremonies and the honoraria he receives from speaking engagements. His talks attract thousands of people, who come to listen to his remarkable adventures and how one man’s determination and character cannot only change the fate of thousands of young boys and girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also achieve the larger objective of peace in the region.

CAI, in response to a question about their economic interest in the book has said, “CAI benefits directly from Greg’s books which are integral to accomplishing our mission. They are the primary means of raising awareness among Americans and the international community. Our success in raising funds is directly related to the success of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, both of which educate readers about advancing peace and stability in the region.” (more at www.ikat.org)

The CAI is focusing on sustainability and has honestly declared, “CAI has also been saving funds, now in excess of $20 million, that can be used to maintain the schools and its programmes on a sustained basis for years to come.”

Ethan Casey in his article quotes Sadia Ashraf, the outreach coordinator for Three Cups of Tea. “What we’re doing with that money is we’re keeping it,” Sadia tells Casey, “so that everyone of the CAI schools can have an endowment. The fact that I don’t have to worry about fundraising twenty years from now, because Greg is worrying about it now – that is genius. He still lives in that two-bedroom house. He still wears the same suit he wore a decade ago, and a tie that has the fashion sense of 1992. He wears an old pair of loafers that are worn down. Every single dollar that CAI earns is because of the outreach that Greg does. He spends 200 days a year away from his family, because he truly believes in the empowerment of women and girls.”

Volumes can be written in support of Greg Mortenson, but I would only like to say that even if he has flaws, even if he is disorganised, he is “Our Hero”. Certainly, improvements and greater efficiencies can be effected. But that should be through well meaning dialogue and suggestions. The role of the media too is critical. Evoking religious sentiments or terming his mission ‘Books for Bombs’ a military strategy does great disservice not only to the man and his work, but indeed to our own country ravaged as it is by lack of education and religious fundamentalism. It is instructive to note that ‘Three Cups of Tea’ is required reading for all servicemen serving in Afghanistan, so they know that they are dealing with human lives.

The future of thousands of girls and women is at stake here. If we cannot marvel at the value of Dr Mortenson’s passion and commitment, let us at least treat it with the deference and consideration that it deserves. What happens in one part of the world affects all others. The effects of this controversy will spread far and wide. Philanthropists and the common man, the world over, may well have second thoughts. All the painful journeys that Greg has made, all the dangers that he has braced, may be compromised. The little girls, who now wear uniforms every morning to go to school, may again be confined to their homes. There will be no more Jehans, Tahiras and Nasreens. They depend on their Dr. Greg as their brightest ray of hope to take the next step towards the journey of a thousand miles. Tashakkur, Greg, we pray for your health and stand by your side!

The writer is a speech therapist.

Email: sadafshah01@hotmail.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=43935&Cat=9

No comments:

Post a Comment