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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

All it takes is a cup of tea

Published: February 6, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.



What could a cup of tea have to do with education? You might presume that they have no connection. But this is not so in Greg Mortensen’s story, “Three Cups of Tea.” It is a powerful illustration of the possibilities that come to people with education. But where does the cup of tea enter the story? The author’s mission to build schools for poor village children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the entire world has nothing to do with tea. But sharing a cup of tea with the Balti people in a village called Korphe in the Karakorum Mountains in Pakistan may be what inspired him to embark on his journey to build over 60 schools in the most unlikely and forgotten parts of the world. If you turn that one cup into “three cups of tea” the effect becomes even more powerful: In Pakistan and Afghanistan at the “first cup of tea you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything.”

How could someone go to regions of the world which currently seem so unstable to us here at Brandeis and build productive schools? It still seems impossible, right? Wrong! Greg Mortenson is an inspiration to us all because he did the impossible by venturing into places other people would be to afraid to go to. With all of the problems going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it may also seem like education is not everyone’s biggest priority, but when asked for one thing they wanted the most, the answer often would be: “Of all the things you have, learning is the one we most desire for our children.” And why not bring that education to them? Why should any child not be allowed to achieve their dreams and true potential?

I think that many people at Brandeis will agree with me that education is essential to the prosperity of any community and nation, not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but all over the world. In times like these we may take our education or something as simple as a book for granted, but we do not realize how lucky we are. It is up to all of us to make sure these children find a way to achieve their dreams. As one African proverb claims, “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate an entire community.” How true are these words! Any one who truly wants to bring education to all people must keep this in mind. Men and women are equally important, but women continue to be the foundation of society, making education even more crucial for any country.

If you are determined, it is possible to do anything to help the people of the world, even build a school. But what makes Greg’s story remarkable is that in 1993 he never even planned to do what he is doing. In fact, the reason why he went to Pakistan was not to build a school but to climb K2, the second largest mountain in the world, in honor of his dead sister. He never reached the summit, got lost in the mountains, and was devastated when he failed. Upon finding his way to the village of Korphe, he is shocked to see that the children have no suitable school. Seeing the simplicity and kindness of people who had rescued him, he promised to build a school. Even though he did not achieve his initial goal, he reached a higher summit which will multiply a thousand times over and of which his sister would have probably been even prouder. One promise to build a school spread to other communities and improved the lives of so many people who had access to education before and felt like they had been forgotten. He is an example that even when things don’t turn out like you expected, they can be more wonderful than you imagined.

He is a compassionate soul who sacrificed the little that he had. He lived in his car for a long time just so he could raise money to build a school for children from a distant land. He had no obligation to help them, but he did. Not only does Greg Mortenson teach the children, but he also teaches his readers about a place that is often misunderstood. The biggest lesson he teaches us is that though different, we all share common values and desire. These innocent faces of the children and the joy and self confidence that they experience when they receive educations are what inspired me to write this article.

Perhaps you can get a better idea from a statement that a first girl to go to school made: “When I was a little sort of girl and I would see a gentleman or a lady with good, clean clothes I would run away and hide my face. But after I graduated from the Korphe School, I felt a big change in my life. I felt I was clean and clear and go before anybody and discuss anything. I feel that anything is possible, I want to be a…’Super lady.’ Every girl should be able to become a Super lady. If we can ignite that energy it will be our biggest source of strength.”

Step by step, one school or tea-cup at a time, peace is possible. It won’t be easy but it also won’t be impossible.

Much of the money for schools came from children who donated their extra pennies. One Jewish boy donated all of his bar mitzvah money. If children can do this for people they never met, nothing is impossible.

How beautiful will the world be if more people can truly realize: “I had no idea what education was. Now I think it is like water. It is important for everything”

For more information about Greg Mortenson see the Central Asia Institute or Pennies for Peace Program, or see my blog, Hope within Pakistan.