Monday, November 23, 2009

The way out of Afghanistan

As President Obama ponders what to do with the mess that is Afghanistan it seems that a way out has been placed at our feet. In 1993 Greg Mortenson was lost in the Karakoram mountains after having failed in his attempt to climb K2. Dehydrated atd disoriented he stumbled into a village that was about as remote as one can get. While he recovered overnight the villagers sent word to where the rest of his team were waiting in vain for him in another village miles away. As he waited for his comrades he watched a group of children practicing their multiplication tables by scratching figures in the dirt with sticks. They were so eager to learn that they worked hard to show progress to a teacher who could only see them a couple of times a week. He had wanted to place an amber necklace on the top of K2 in memory of his deceased little sister but the mountain attempt had failed. Now he could see a bigger and better memorial in front of him. He was going to build these earnest children a school. To make a long story short that school was just the start of an amazing adventure that has now empowered hundreds of villages in Pakistan and, yes, Afghanistan to take charge of their future by giving their children a basic education.

We have all heard about well-meaning, do-gooder efforts at "helping" the less fortunate that have become disasters. But almost miraculously, Greg seems to have come upon a formula that actually works. It has two key features. He goes where a relationship has been established. No just dropping out of the sky. The leaders of the village provide resources and manpower to build the schools and other projects. The sweat equity makes all the difference in the world. And he focuses on educating the girls. They tend to stay in the villages and pass what they learn to future generations more effectively than the boys.

So I invite you to check out the Central Asia Institute and learn more about it. Greg has a new book called Stones Into Schools coming out at the beginning of December. I think it will show a genuine way to final peace in Afghanistan and many other troubled places in the world.

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