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Three Cups of Tea an inspiring delight

In the bitterly cold morning drinking cups of sweet tea, I watched the sun rise above the knife-edged ascents of the Himalayan mountains.

In the bitterly cold morning drinking cups of sweet tea, I watched the sun rise above the knife-edged ascents of the Himalayan mountains. At that time, nearly a decade ago, I thought, who would want to climb such killer peaks – what could motivate someone to do something so dangerous and life-threatening?

But that was the task climber Greg Mortenson set out for himself in 1993, determined to conquer K2, considered the most dangerous mountain in the world to climb. He wanted to reach the summit in memory of his deceased sister, but his trek was cut short due to a perilous rescue of a fellow climber.

Alone on his descent, Mortenson got lost and stumbled onto the mountain village of Korphe in Pakistan. In these rural villages, children forgotten by their government had no school building. Instead, Mortenson found them kneeling on the still frost-hardened ground, studying. They shared a teacher with a neighbouring village and when the teacher worked in the other village, they still got together to practice the lessons he left behind. Most scratched their lessons in the dirt with sticks, since they had no pencils or paper.

Choked up by the state of these kids who were willing to go to such lengths for an education, Mortenson promised the village leader he would come back and build Korphe a school.

What happens next sets the story of Three Cups of Tea, the New York Times best-seller about Mortenson’s mission. He lives from paycheck to paycheck, trying to scrimp and save money for the school. But after getting one school off the ground, he finds he has the mandate and the donations to make another and then another.

Soon, he is building schools across Pakistan for boys and girls who otherwise have to go to extremes to get an education. One man remembers how he and his father walked for two days from their village and then how he crossed a river to get to the nearest village with a school. He couldn’t swim, so instead, he held on to a raft his father had made of six inflated goat bladders lashed together until the current carried him across the chilly rapids to the village downstream.

On top of their overwhelming poverty, some of these innocent rural villagers find themselves bombed by rocket fire on all sides – between India and Pakistan and then, after 9/11, by Americans and the Taliban. Mortenson sees how children can be drawn to extremist Islamic madrassas (schools) because they have no other option to get an education, and they see no other future than toting a gun. He exhorts Americans to try and do more for Afghanistan.

“If we try to resolve terrorism with military might and nothing else, then we will be no safer than we were before 9/11. If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs,” the book reports Mortenson as saying. It’s that point of view that made him a candidate for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize that ultimately went to Barack Obama.

Mortenson’s village schools give girls and boys a chance to become health workers, or engineers, or teachers who come back to educate the next generation of children. He’s given them the gift of education, and with it, hope, and for this, he has become a hero in Pakistan.

As of 2009, Mortenson’s foundation has built or supported 131 schools in the rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the depths of conservative Islamic territory, Mortenson has scaled a summit more challenging than K2 – he has truly won the hearts and minds of people who may otherwise call themselves our enemies. That accomplishment has become a more meaningful and lasting tribute to his sister than climbing any mountain.

But this isn’t a story about what one man can accomplish on his own. None of us can succeed without help. Mortenson collects donations from millionaires for his mission, but even pennies from school kids have helped him along in his journey, since even one penny buys a pencil in that part of the world, while a dollar pays for a teacher’s salary for a day or a child’s education for a month.

To find out more about Mortenson, his mission and how you too can help make a difference in this world, visit or read the book – it will make you want to climb mountains too.