Although quality education is far from assured in the United States and other Western countries, virtually all school-aged children can attend a public school. This is not true in all parts of the world. In India, only 83% of school-aged children are enrolled in primary schools. In Nepal, this rate is 70%, and in Pakistan, just 52%. In Pakistan, 42 million children do not attend school. Fortunately, a number of nonprofit organizations are working to build and staff schools in these regions, including the very successful Central Asia Institute (CAI).
Central Asia Institute is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Co-founder and Executive Director Greg Mortenson made a commitment to build a school when he discovered that there was none in the entire town inhabited by the kind and welcoming Balti people whom he met after not-quite summiting K-2, the world’s second tallest mountain. Mortenson returned to the United States and attempted to raise funds to build the school. He sold almost everything he owned and sent letters to as many people as possible to solicit support. His first efforts were to little avail, but he finally found a significant funder in Dr. Jean Hoerni. As Mortenson began planning the first school, he realized that construction would be impossible until a bridge was built over the Braldu River. From 1993 to 1996, Mortsenson worked with the Balti people to erect the bridge and then a school in Korphe village. During that time, he realized the importance of empowering the local people and listening to and learning from them. In 1996, Hoerni established CAI, naming Mortenson the director.
As of 2009, CAI had established 130 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, reaching more than 51,000 students. Projects are selected to benefit some of the world’s most remote areas, where few services are available. CAI schools employ more than 1,200 full or partially supported teachers, and CAI offers teacher training workshops. The organization can build and fully operate a school for $50,000–a remarkable feat.
Mortenson and the board of directors of CAI believe that girls and women are the key to ending the violence in these regions of the world. To that end, CAI has also built and funded women’s vocational centers and literacy centers. It has provided training for women’s nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and has established several scholarships for women and girls seeking specialized training. Additionally, CAI has helped provide potable water and sanitation systems in many communities, as well as some basic health care and eye care clinics.
The general public in the United States learned about the amazing work of CAI with the 2006 publication of Mortenson’s book about his expeditions, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time. The book has also been adapted for young readers (Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World. One Child at a Time). Listen to the Wind, a children’s book, is told through the voices of Korphe’s children. Mortenson’s most recent publication, released December 1, 2009, is Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
CAI is funded by many donors and supporters. People all over the world have contributed small amounts that collectively make a big difference. One innovative fund-raising method used is called Pennies for Peace (P4P). Groups simply collect their spare change and send it in. More than 3,000 schools, organizations, and individuals have participated in P4P. A guide is available at this program’s website (www .penniesforpeace.org) for educators who wish to teach about the issues addressed here as well as incorporate a P4P service program into their classes. In 2011, a New York Times expose’ exposed inconsistencies in Mortenson’s story about his work. It seems as though he took credit for building schools that were really built by others, and some of the schools he opened were not actually operational.
- Central Asia Institute: https://www.ikat.org/
- Frontline/World. (n.d.). Extended interview: Mosharraf Zaidi. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/pakistan901/zaidi.html
- Mortenson, G. (2007). Three cups of tea: One man’s mission to promote peace . one school at a time. New York: Penguin.
- Mortenson, G. (2009). Stones into schools: Promoting peace with books, not bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. New York: Viking.
- Pennies for Peace: www.penniesforpeace.org