Building schools in war zones an accidental life's work

Thu Feb 4, 2010 11:28am EST
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By Nick Olivari

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Greg Mortenson found his life's passion by accident after failing to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain.

Exhausted by the attempt, which was in memory of his sister who had died in an epileptic fit, Mortenson took a wrong turn on the descent and found himself in a remote Pakistan village.

There, observing a group of school age children writing with sticks in the sand, he promised to build a school.

Seventeen years later, after co-founding the non-profit Central Asia Institute (CAI), Mortenson has helped build 131 schools across the most remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson wrote about his experiences in "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time" which was published in 2006.

In his latest book, "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan" he describes CAI's aim to educate those usually discouraged from learning where the Koran and tribal law are absolute -- girls and young women.

"I have great respect for all faiths but I practice faith through actions not talk," Mortenson, 52, said by telephone from his Montana residence. "God is on the side of the widows, orphans and 120 million children who can't go to school."


<p>Greg Mortenson (3rd R - back) poses with tribal elders from Urozgan province in southern Afghanistan September 2009. Central Asia Institute has established the first girls high school in this province, which is a Taliban stronghold. REUTERS/Sarfraz Khan/Central Asia Institute</p>