Greg Mortenson – A Great Humanitarian

I have been totally smitten by the books “Three Cups of Tea”and “Stones into Schools”, written by Greg Mortenson and co-authors.  His work has been amazing insofar as his focus on building schools, and ensuring education is given to girls in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This is a Guest blog which is beautiful and sums up so much, as well as the footprints left by Greg Mortenson.

March 29, 2012 – Guest blog by Zaighum Sohail Warsi

Below is a column written by Zaighum Sohail Warsi in Urdu and published in Daily Azkar (Pakistan) in February. Sohail shared his article with Greg Mortenson, Karin Ronnow, and Anne Beyersdorfer during their last visit to Pakistan. Translated by Fozia Naseer.

Greg Mortenson

Greg Mortenson and great people
Some [happening] catches people’s eyes – but we can’t call it a Miracle. We can’t dispel it either by saying, “It is our destiny.”

It is hard to understand the human nature because humans usually follow the ways that fulfill their own needs, but not of others. But there are a few different people, who give us clues of how to direct our lives.

There is a common Pakistani saying that you can understand a person through his friendship, social dreams or thoughts. You understand good or bad behavior quickly. Some people worked hard to do something for others, and they did not give up. We should call these people Great People.

Zaighum Sohail Warsi – the writer of this letter

There is a custom, too, that people use a name to make them sound important, like Azeem [great] Kamal [miracle], Afsar [officer], Shi [royal]. etc., Some people do not even want a title, but have inherited it. However, without actions, these are just meaningless names, even for the impoverished.

Some people deserve to be treated well and other people should give them respect and stand up for them. But now days respect (Izat) you can find in the market.

Some people might be surprised that I am trying to talk seriously about hard issues, even though our tendency is to laugh or cry when life gets beyond our control. If the gas prices rise, then journalists write a column about it, but do we understand what the problems of the country are? Corruption? Greed? Infidelity amongst our politicians? If a journalist would ask a question to a politician about their work, they would talk on and on with meaningless rhetoric and say, “We care about our people, and we are for our country, just give us a chance to be together with the people”.

Everything has to be according to their thoughts. As I mentioned in the beginning, our thoughts can lead us to the way we want to go.

When somebody asks the British prime minister what his priorities are, the response is “EDUCATION, EDUCATION AND EDUCATION.” What are the differences between us [in Pakistan] and others? It’s clear.

Dreams and aspirations about personal gain are high, but education does not have any priority or strategy here.

We have forget that one USA university budget is higher than our country budget [for education]. Criticism can go on and on but we need to have a practical plan in this country. If people are asked about their rights, they fear that partition is happening again.

Our federal system is a based out of fear, and nobody can think properly. We were shocked when we heard that even in Punjab province, some leaders are prohibiting building a girl school. In some countries, people want to go to the moon, but in Pakistan, we do not even want girls to go to school. What good is that?

Welfare workers are trying to make sure that no restriction for their work but there are so many problems for them, they get tired of this.

NewspaperGreg Mortenson came to Gilgit-Baltistan for climbing K2, but he found a bigger goal, when he saw the poverty and lack of education there. Instead of talking, he started building schools. So far, he has built more than 100 schools in Pakistan and tens of thousands of children, including girls, are going to these schools.

[Greg and his Central Asia Institute] provide free educational resources and because of that poor people are benefitting.

By profession, Greg is a medical person, and understands that if one part of the body is paralyzed, the whole body feels sick. When people are hearing about a doctor in this country they touch their ears: Stay away from a doctor and jail. Greg brought awareness to the people that through education there is hope.

Sometimes the people in this country get a lot of publicity for talking about their work, but we do not see any projects, or know where the money is going, or for what purpose.

But for those who do work, and don’t walk much, that is what we should call the Royal Great Miracles. Quietly serve humanity, and do great work. In the name of Islam, this is what we should all support and appreciate.

A good thing about Central Asia Institute is that it works as a team, and with communities. There is no big boss, or “Yes, Sir” and “No Sir”. Just a team of common people serving humanity, and getting things done.

Greg stepped out in education and our Pakistan government gave him its’ high civilian award called “Sitara (Star) Award”.

We are surprised that here in this country big people have big houses, who hide their wealth by putting everything under their daughter’s name. And yet they still say, “We are working for our people.”

But what about the next generation? Are we really serving them? Time is passing by. What actions have happened? What are we waiting for?

— Zaighum Sohail Warsi for the Daily Azkar, Pakistan

Editors Note:

Reports about possible improprieties of Greg Mortenson as Director of the charity Central Asia Institute, was brought to light by writer Jon Krakauer in April 2011. Krakauer’s contentions about goings-on at the Central Asia Institute were broadcast on “60 Minutes” and caused a sensation. No matter the intention behind Krakauer’s sensational findings, plus the publication of  his rants and accusations with “Three Cups of Deceit”, he (Krakauer) certainly got his claim to fame.

It is know by Australians as “The Tall Poppy Syndrome”.  Sure there were mistake made by Mortenson, who as a person from a medical background, with a focus on humanitarism and getting much need schools built for girls in Afgahnstan  and remote  areas in Pakistan, turned out to be not so adept as a businessman when it came to doing all things correctly.  Never has the work of this man been in dispute though.  His mistake was using charity funds to promote his books to aid the the building of more schools .  Mortenson has since paid back to the Charity more than $500,000 of the $1 million he is required to over the next three years.

The arrangement that has been put in place to allow the Central Asia Institute to continue its mission of building schools in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan is probably a wise one. Despite the controversy, readers who responded to Mortenson’s story voiced support for the author and his work. With more formal administration, that work may be done more effectively, so donors’ funds are put to best use. Mortenson and three other directors have stood down, but will continue to work for the organization.

Comments 2

  1. The learning curve where the cultural and business knowledge is expanding will always involve mistakes. As long as the integrity is there, these mistakes are just hurdles to leap over. Greg Mortensons work is amazing and this article about education in Pakistan just highlights the size of the gap being bridged. It’s all heading in the right direction.

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