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"Three Cups of Tea" presentation in Waubun

Wearing a traditional Pakistani summer dress, Barb Doerring proudly displays the books her nephew, Greg Mortenson, has written about his efforts to help educate the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. She spoke at Waubun's Trinity Lutheran Church on Wednesday, in a presentation hosted by the GFWC Library Club. (Vicki Gerdes/DL Newspapers)

WAUBUN -- To most people living in the U.S., education is considered to be an "inalienable right" as set forth in the Constitution.

But for the majority of children living in war-torn countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, education is a privilege granted to very few.

Moved by what he saw during a mountain climbing expedition to Pakistan in 1993, Minnesota native Greg Mortenson is working to change that, through the establishment of a non-profit agency called the Central Asia Institute.

Mortenson wrote a book about his struggles to bring education to the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The New York Times best seller, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace, One School At a Time is now considered mandatory reading in many schools

This past Wednesday, Mortenson's aunt, Barb Doerring was in Waubun to discuss Mortenson's work, and what can be done on a local level to further his cause.

She talked about how Mortenson embarked on a journey to scale the Pakistan peak known simply as "K-2," and became lost on the way back down from the aborted climb.

His strength all but depleted, Mortenson was taken in by a man living in a Pakistani village and nursed back to health. While he was recovering, he happened upon a group of students who were learning their lessons by scratching out answers in the dirt.

He later learned that they were only able to afford to have a teacher every other day.

Not only did they not have a school building, they didn't even have the most basic tools of learning, Mortenson realized. By the time he left, he had promised to return and build a school for the village -- and so his mission in life was born.

More than 15 years later, Mortenson's Central Asia Institute has constructed 81 schools and 11 vocational schools in Pakistan, as well as 49 schools and four vocational schools I Afghanistan.

All together, his projects have impacted 38,708 students -- nearly 28,000 of them female -- and resulted in the construction of 159 learning facilities in the two countries.

Doerring said that, unlike schools in America, the schools that CAI builds receive no financial support from the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan or the U.S. While the U.S. might like to provide some funds to the project, Doerring said, such funding would only have put up roadblocks to obtaining the approval of the Pakistani and Afghan governments for the work he's doing.

In an effort to promote cross-cultural understanding, no fewer than four languages are taught to students in CAI schools, Doerring said.

"They teach Balti, Urdu, Arabic and English," she said.

Though both sexes are encouraged to attend CAI schools, a particular emphasis is placed upon recruiting girl students, Doerring said, because studies have shown that educating women results in three important things: A reduction in infant mortality, prevention of population explosions, and an improvement in basic life and health.

One of the reasons why Mortenson's schools have been so successful, Doerring said, is because CAI believes in making them sustainable, by requiring local "sweat equity" in the construction, and recruiting local teachers to educate the students.

When the people of the community have invested their own labor in the construction of a school, "they will do anything to protect it," Doerring said.

Another reason for CAI's success in receiving the support it needs, she added, is that "86 percent of all donations go to the schools directly."

Mortenson's work has been lauded the world over, as he was awarded the Star of Pakistan by the Pakistani government earlier this year -- the first foreign individual to receive the distinction. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

To learn more about Mortenson's work, and what you can do to help, please visit the web site,

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454