All children deserving of education

By Monica Clark 2011

Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea has changed the world not only with his book, but with his life-changing goals to do good will.

In 1993, to honor his sister Christa after she died of epilepsy, Mortenson decided to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain in the Karakoram range.

But he didn’t make it to the top and he fell seriously ill and had to walk back down the mountain without reaching his goal. In the village called Korphe, the people graciously took him in to recover. When he walked by some children in the dirt writing with sticks, Mortenson asked them what they were doing. They told him they didn’t have a school and their teacher was in another village because they couldn’t afford the $1 per day tuition. At that point he promised them that he would return to build them a school.

This would become the first of 78 schools established in rural regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. These schools provide education to more than 28,000 children, and 18,000 of these students are girls. More children in Afghanistan are going to school than have been in years. In 2008, 6 million students were enrolled, comparing to 800,000 in 2000.

Mortenson’s primary goal is to provide education to girls who would otherwise have no means of receiving it, although sometimes it is very hard for girls to get an education even if a school is built. The Taliban banned the education of women in Afghanistan, militant leaders say that teaching girls goes against the Koran and parents often aren’t comfortable with their girls walking long distances to get to school especially in rural areas and war zones.

But when Mortenson asked women in Pakistan and Afghanistan what they wanted most, they said, “We don’t want our babies to die, and we want our children—including daughters—to go to school.”

The Council on Foreign Relations explains the key ingredients for successful and withstanding girls’ schools. They say schools need to be built near the girls’ homes, they need to be run by the community, they need to be “girl friendly” with private bathrooms and walls, they need to have female teachers, focus on quality education, and invest in school health programs.

There are other worthwhile outcomes that occur when women are educated. When women get married, they leave home, and the ties with their family are often severed. If they would learn how to write, then they could maintain the connections with their parents and siblings through letters.

Women who are educated also live better, healthier lives. They contribute to the family income, insist that their own children are educated, and help nationally provide economic growth and prosperity. It also boosts farming productivity and promotes more representative governments. Educated women often have lower infant mortality rates, and they are more likely to stand up for themselves and resist violence.

Mortenson’s book has even affected people in high power. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chistopher Kolendo read Three Cups of Tea, and he contacted Mortenson in an e-mail. He wrote, “I am conviced that the long-term solution to terrorism in general … is education. The conflict there will not be won with bombs, but with books and ideas that excite the imagination toward peace, tolerance and prosperity …”

It is very easy to see how Mortenson’s work has inspired people throughout the world, and I believe Mortenson to be a very great person in that respect. For someone who was a nobody who helped children and communities in foreign counties, to help them obtain higher ground in this world is someone I admire thoroughly. It is so amazing to me how someone with practically no money can bring millions of people together for one cause—to help those in need.

In Pakistan, when you drink the first cup of tea, you are a stranger, the second, you are a friend, and the third, you are family. I think that explains Mortenson’s work perfectly. When he first met the people in Korphe, he was a stranger to them. When he came back to build the school, he built on those relationships and became a friend, and when he sustained those friendships, he became part of their family.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could accept one another as family? If we honestly took time and money to care for those who live in this world? It would be wonderful for people to follow in Mortenson’s steps to help those around the world, but first the steps for equality need to be fulfilled.

In America, children in this country dread going to school. We grumble and complain about the unfairness of homework and tests. I think that we become selfish when we don’t realize that others don’t receive the same opportunities as we do. In America it’s mandatory to go to school; in countries like Afghanistan, it’s a privilege.

We don’t realize the danger and fear that children have when they can’t walk safely from town to town, the long distances it takes to earn an education, and the sacrifices children make to attend school.

Even with our current economic crisis, I think it is important for us as Americans to step back and look at the picture as a whole. The truth is that we are far better off than many countries around the world. We need to realize that an education is the most important thing right now, especially for girls. Like the African proverb says, “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. But if you educate a girl, you educate a community.”

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