Book World Live: Greg Mortensen, Author of 'Three Cups of Tea'

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Greg Mortensen
Author and Nonprofit Founder
Monday, February 2, 2009; 12:00 PM

The book Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time, by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, has become an international sensation, spending 89 weeks and counting on the Washington Post Book World bestseller list. It chronicles Mortensen's efforts to build a school for a remote Pakistani village that offered him refuge during a mountaineering expedition. The book led to the foundation of the nonprofit Pennies for Peace, which has raised enough money from children to establish over 78 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Now, the book has been adapted for young adults and children in two new volumes, titled Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Journey to Change the World... One Child at a Time and Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortensen was online Monday, February 2 to discuss his ongoing work on behalf of the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan and why he is now bringing the Three Cups of Tea story to younger readers.

A transcript follows.

Mortensen is the co-founder of the nonprofit organizations Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace. He survived an eight-day armed kidnapping, escaped a firefight with feuding Afghan warlords, has overcome two fatwehs, endured CIA investigations, and also received hate mail and death threats from fellow Americans for helping Muslim Children receive an education. While not overseas, Mortenson lives in Bozeman, Montana with his wife Dr. Tara Bishop, a clinical psychologist, and their two children, Amira and Khyber

Join Book World Live each week for a discussion based on a story or review in Book World or in the weekday Style Section. For more from Book World, read the daily Short Stack blog, subscribe to the weekly Book World podcast, and join the ongoing discussion in Dirda's Reading Room.

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Greg Mortensen: Asalaam-o-Aliakum (peace be with you) and greetings. I am Greg Mortenson, founder and director of nonprofit Central Asia Institute www.ikat.org and Pennies for Peace www.penniesforpeace.org (a children's program), and co-author of New York Times bestseller "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission To Promote Peace: One School At A Time" www.threecupsoftea.com .

There is more information on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Mortenson

Thank you for participating in this Washington Post live discussion, it's an honor to be a part of this.

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Springfield, Va.: When are you going overseas again?

Greg Mortensen: I will go to Pakistan and Afghanistan in March 2009. Generally, I am in rural areas of Pakistan and/or Afghanistan about 5 months a year for the last 15 years. Since we have such phenomenal local staff who coordinate everything with local community elders, I am mostly a cheerleader (and do a lot of tea drinking and meetings)!

I've spent about 70 months in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan over 37 trips in the last 16 years since I climbed K2 in 1993.

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Manassas, Va.: Greg, 1st of all, thank you for participating. 2nd of all, I'm a slow reader so, I'm only 1/2 way through your book, but it's a wonderful read!

I've heard of many schools in Afghanistan destroyed. Especially girls' schools. My question is: Were any of the schools destroyed, ones that were built through your organization? If so, isn't that discouraging to your cause?

Thank you for answering.

Greg Mortensen: Thank you. Since 2007, the Taliban and other militant groups have bombed, destroyed or shut down over 510 schools in Afghanistan and 175 schools in Pakistan. What is interesting is that about 80-90% of the destroyed schools are girls' schools, and not boys' schools. I believe that they are bombing the girls' schools and not boys' schools because their greatest fear is not the bullet, but the pen, and they are afraid that if a girl gets an education and grows up to become a mother, they will promote the value of education in their community and the Taliban will have lost their ability to get future recruits.

Only ONE (contrary to many rumors) of our schools has been attacked by about a dozen Taliban in summer 2007. However, the local militia leader, Commandhan Fahim, who has two daughters in another school, was upset and attacked the Taliban with about 100 of his militia men and re-opened the school two days later and has put 12 Askari (militia men) to guard the school. The Taliban had received $3,000 US from the local mullah to shut the school down so this was more of a case about money and not Islam.

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Springfield, Va.: When you started on this path you must have traveled alone. Do many others go with you now? A staff perhaps?

Greg Mortensen: Thank you. All of our 18 overseas staff are local staff, who serve in five main regional areas. They have worked with me for 10-16 years and are adept at working with local communities. In the USA, we have seven staff who run the USA-based organization Central Asia Institute.

When I travel overseas, we occasionally have someone go along, but it's not really necessary because of our local staff in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

My father (Irvin Mortenson) was a co-founder of Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, KCMC, in northern Tanzania. He worked very hard from 1962 to 1971 to raise funds and get the hospital established, but he always insisted on having local staff which often did not go over well with the expat directors.

At the hospital inaguration in 1971, my father got up and gave a speech and said in ten years all the KCMC department heads would be from Tanzania and afterwards he was admonished for saying that by the westerners. Even though he died later in his late forties from cancer, when we got the annual report ten years later, all the department heads were from Tanzania and even now, 37 years later. It's important to empower locals to initiate, implement and manage projects in their entirety.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: What is it like to be investigated by the CIA? Do they interview you, do they speak to your friends? Are they at least pleasant?

Greg Mortensen: Thank you. I was investigated by the CIA in 2001 and 2002, which obviously was a time when the U.S. was in a reactive, heightened state of fear and concern. They were neither pleasant or rude to me, very business-like. They also did not harm me or use aggressive methods.

My concern was that at the time (and even today) this is a very grey area with no laws or jurisdiction about what a private citizen is obligated to do.

What I did after the initial two investigations was to contact our Montana State Attorney general for advice, and she told me that if the CIA contacted me again to tell them that I would be happy to talk with them, but only in her office in Billings, Montana. Anyhow, the CIA contacted me twice afterwards, but when I told them I would only talk to them in the presence of the Attorney General in Montana, they did not contact me again.

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family: Sounds like your father was a great influence on you and your philosophy of life. How did you make that your own and how do you in turn see yourself influencing your own children?

Greg Mortensen: Yes, my father Dempsey (nicknamed after the boxer) had a profound influence on me. He was a quiet, reserved man (like me) who always said that actions speak much louder than words. He was gifted with languages and had great cultural sensitivity. When I was young he read Albert Schweitzer's (doctor in Congo who won Nobel Peace Prize) book "Reverence For Life" to me which I always remember - it is a book that says that all life is sacred and to be respected.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Greg, A question from those of us who might like to donate: Your organization's total budget is very small and you still have few staff in the U.S. to manage things. How much is the book providing for the organization? Is the attention from the book overwhelming you and your staff?

I loved and was moved by the book and your story. I completely agree with your assessment of how educating girls and bringing information to this part of the world will change the world forever. Blessings.

Greg Mortensen: Thank you Arlington! Three Cups of Tea book has been an incredible blessing for our organization. Although it has invoked a little bit of hate mail and threats, most of all it has helped our organization significantly. Our database has gone from 8,200 to 86,000 in three years and our donations have quadrupled. And because of the incredible outpouring of generosity, we are able to provide hundreds of young women (and men) with scholarships, start more intensive teacher training programs help our (over 600) teachers to get ongoing higher degrees, become more sustainable and much more.

Three Cups of Tea is in the process or has been published in 29 countries so far, so there has been significant international interest as well.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I cannot say enough about the book. I just finished listening to it and I am recommending it to everyone I can. Other than the # of schools built by CAI, how do you measure your success? Are you able to keep track of every student?

Also I see that you were at Sidwell Friends at the same time our new President, Mr. Obama, was there. Did you have an opportunity to share with him your success so he can build off those successes?

Thank you for your unconditional acts of kindness and to your wife, the heroine.

Greg Mortensen: Thank you Silver Spring. My wife Tara Bishop graduated from Sidwell in the early 1980's and my mother in law Lila Bishop taught science at Sidwell Friends for about twenty years. We did not meet the Obamas but their daughters Malia and Sasha were in attendance. My 12 year old daughter Amira has been on book tour with me for a couple weeks, and she also helps talk with the students.

We have a Young Readers book, Three Cups of Tea, which was just released that is for 4th - 9th graders (and even adults). For this book, I went through over 2,000 letters and emails with complaints, criticisms, praises and suggestions for Three Cups of Tea adult book and incorporated many of the comments in the Young Readers books, which includes a time line, glossary, "Whos who", more diagrams, line drawings, more photos, intro by Dr. Jane Goodall and a 30 page Q&A with my 12 year old daughter Amira on her perceptions of education.

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Centreville, Va.: What is the status of your funding?

Has the book contributed to a lot of additional funding?

Greg Mortensen: Thank you Centreville. Yes, the book has contributed to significant funding, our donations have about quadrupled since the book came out.

Also the U.S. military has taken a keen interest in the book, and it is mandatory reading for officers at the Pentagon going into counter-intelligence training.

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Arlington, Va.: Thank you for coming to "chat" with us. My book group read your book last year, and we were all very moved by your story. One of the most disturbing things that I read, though, were the efforts by Saudi or other foreign militants to build dubious schools to indoctrinate, rather than to teach. I assume that unfortunately is still happening?

Greg Mortensen: Thank you Arlington.

Yes, there is still a proliferation of extremist madrassas. According to Ahmed Rashid, one of the foremost authorities and writers in the region (wrote bestseller "Taliban" and "Descent Into Chaos"), he estimates that the number of extremist madrassas in 1980 was about 900 and today there are 25,000.

Its important to note that madrassa means school, and 99% of madrassas are similiar to confirmation, catechism or Bar Mitzvah, where children learn about the Holy Koran or Islam, and that only a fraction are devoted to extremist ideology and militant type of Islam.

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Alexandria, Va.: Thanks for doing this chat. I so admire you and your tireless and extremely important work.

I remember from reading your book a couple of years ago that you said (paraphrasing -- my memory is bad) that the US government wasn't really getting the job done in Afghanistan with regard to working with the people and the culture on a basic level. Reading about your work, it's hard to see why your way of doing things wouldn't be an obvious and more permanent solution. Do you see things getting better in this regard under an Obama administration? Or do you think the people in that region don't trust us anymore?

Greg Mortensen: Originally (2001-2006), the reconstruction policy in Afghanistan was based on a 'centralized' and 'de-provincialized' structure.

The Marshall Plan after WWII, which I think was a brilliant plan and the architects who designed it were geniuses, was based on a 'de-centralized' and provincialized basis, exactly the opposite of what was done in Afghanistan.

Only recently has the international community started changing the process to a 'bottoms up' provincialized type of reconstruction which is the key.

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Washington, D.C.: What has been the general reaction from Americans? Have there been any adverse effects?

Greg Mortensen: Most people here in the USA are very supportive, and it is a blessing to see that Americans, of all regions, faiths, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds believe in the power of education and that it is education that can help heal our polarity over politics or religion.

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Arlington, Va.: Greg, Thank you for all you're doing! What have you found to be the most effective ways to raise money for the schools?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Arlington.

I think the most effective way to fundraise is just to work very, very hard and know that American people are compassionate, good people who really care about not only our own communities and countries but in the hope of global peace. Our image abroad can be enhanced if we reach out and build bridges and relationships rather than spend billions to put a high wall around our country.

Fighting terrorism is based in fear, promoting peace is based in hope and the real enemy -- whether it is in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa or USA - the real enemy is ignorance - which breeds hatred.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: How prevalent do you think waste, fraud and corruption are in foreign aid from the United States? Any specific examples you could share?

Greg Mortensen: The waste, fraud and corruption is fairly significant in US aid money to Pakistan and Afghanistan. One example is the ALP (Alternative Livelihood Program) which is the anti-narcotics, opium eradication program in Afghanistan. Last year, the budget was over $1.1 billion and was primarly handed out in cash (along with huge salaries to contractors), and nothing was done to put local people in charge - which is the only way this can work.

In 2007, over 8,200 tons of opium were harvested in Afghanistan and it did drop a little last year, which brought in over $3 billion in revenue to the country.

This is just one program that really needs to be checked.

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Kansas City: If you could, how would you change the USAID program for developing health clinics and schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks KC! Great comment!

Rather than spend so much money on buildings and material, much more emphasis should be put in training of maternal health care workers, rural health providers, and secondary level health providers. Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world (in Badakshan province in NE Afghanistan it is 1,900 per 100,000 live births compared to about 17 in the US). Training people first goes much further than just brick and mortar.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you think the US Agency for International Development has done in its efforts to develop schools and clinics? Do you accept funding from USAID? Do you think their programs have been effective and cost efficient?

Greg Mortensen: Although we have never accepted or received any US funds or USAID, we do help them with local contacts. It's imperative that from day one, local communities are involved in projects and programs which is often the missing link with USAID projects that are managed and implemented by outsiders.

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Freising, Germany: I found it interesting that a Shiite cleric wrote a letter on your behalf to the Council of Ayatollahs in Qom, Iran, regarding a fatweh that was issued against you. I'd once read that Pakistanis primarily practice the Sunni form of Islam. Are there any Sunni-Shiite conflicts in Pakistan?

Also, what is the I found it interesting that a Shiite cleric wrote a letter on your behalf to the Council of Ayatollahs in Qom, Iran, regarding a fatweh that was issued against you. I'd once read that Pakistanis primarily practice the Sunni form of Islam. Are there any Sunni-Shiite conflicts in Pakistan?

Also, what is the lingua franca in the remote parts of Pakistan and which languages do you need to do your work? You mention somewhere that a Mullah came to read the Koran to you in Arabic during your kidnapping.

Greg Mortensen: Germany, danke and Gutten tak (sorry about spelling!)

There are about 82% Sunni and 17% Shiia in Pakistan. In some areas there is significant strife and violence between Sunnis and Shiias especially during religious days like Moharram and Ashura.

The Pakistan government curriculum for Islamiat (Islamic) studies is written in the Sunni context which also causes dissension in Shiia areas.

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Rexburg, Idaho: Thank you for Three Cups of Tea and for taking questions today.

What do people tend to misunderstand about your book? Not about Pakistan or Afghanistan, but about the book.

Greg Mortensen: Thanks (neighbour to Montana) Rexburg!

Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding about the book is why it was written in third person instead of first person. First of all, I am so busy, I really don't have time to sit down for months to create a book. Also, as a rather reserved person, my wife said that if I wrote a book it would be a pamphlet because I am so understated.

So the publisher encouraged and wanted the book in third person so co-author David Oliver Relin could bring out the 'shyness' in me.

Presently I am writing a new book "Stones Into Schools" which is more about Afghanistan. Will be published within a year. It is in first person, and has been a difficult process (I get up about 2 AM every morning to work on it), but I'm doing it in first person as so many people asked for it, but it has been challenging.

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Easton Md.: Has the new administration been in touch with you at all? As we grapple with the approach towards Afghanistan, it seems to me that your experiences "on the ground" should be part of the thinking.

Greg Mortensen: The new administration has not yet been in touch with me.

To be honest, I am concerned with Obama's rather brazen remarks about 'catching Osama' and his pushing for rapid deployment of 3 more brigades to Afghanistan (about 20-30,000 more troops) which is already happening. President Karzai, Afghan commanders, militia leaders, tribal leaders, government officials who I have met ALL say "WE do NOT need more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, what we need is training and supplies for our troops and most of all we need education."

So I hope that before we get too much more deep in escalating violence with deployment of more troops to Afghanistan, that Obama and his advisors would 'listen' to the Afghan leaders to see what they think would work. Also, having talked with many of the top U.S. military commanders, they also say there is no military solution in Afghanistan, so we need to think out of the box to have any progress there.

Obama said he would listen to others and talk, so hopefully that will happen.

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Downtown D.C.: Hi Greg - Thanks for your work, and for the wonderful books. Since education is power, do you have any suggestions how we can get more of your kids' book into more US classrooms -- maybe even in military classrooms? American kids need to learn more about their world, and this would be a great start. Thanks!

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Downtown DC. Kids are really keen to make a difference. Pennies for Peace, www.penniesforpeace.org, our children's program, has grown from 270 to 3,200 schools in the last year. We also encourage students to decide on their own what they would like to support, wheather it is local or international.

Contact the publisher (Puffin Books NYC 345 Hudson Ave, NY NY 10014 and Pearson foundation, NJ - sorry don't have the email here) and tell them that you would like to see them donate more books to schools.

Ask local libraries to get the book, and also we would love to get the books in school libraries, nursing homes (whose libraries are often woeful), military libraries, churches, synagogues, mosques and hospitals.

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Washington D.C.: Why do you think your book has resonated so strongly with so many people?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks DC! Even to me, it's surprising that the book is of interest to liberals, conservatives, people of many socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and many faiths, the military, and internationally in countries as diverse as Croatia, Brazil, Taiwan, China, Egypt, Israel and more.

I wish I knew exactly why, but perhaps it's because it encourages people to know that anyone can make a difference, and that there is hope through education.

If you can figure out the answer for this question, please let me know!!

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Severna Park, Md: After reading The Kite Runner and starting your book, I wonder how women can protect themselves and thrive in these oppressive societies.

Thank you for all of your efforts to help those in need.

Greg Mortensen: The best protection (I think) again is education.

We can drop bombs, hand out condoms, put in electricity, or build roads, but unless the girls are educated a society won't change.

It takes one or two generations for the results of girls' education to come to fruition, but the results are profound:

1. Reduce infant mortality

2. Decrease the population explosion

3. Increase quality of health and life itself

4. Girls who can read can write letters for their mothers who often have had their maternal ties severed

5. A woman who has an education is much less likely to condone or encourage her son to get into violence, gangs or terrorism

6. Socio-economic benefit

A good, quick book to read on girls education is "What Works in Girls' Education" by Council on Foreign Relations ($8.99) which is one of the best concise references on this.

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Severna Park, Md.: Mr. Mortenson, thank you so much for Three Cups of Tea. You are a remarkable man in a time and place of the world where remarkable individuals are needed. You're story is inspiring and I can't imagine anyone reading it that would not be inspired. I am now interested in a region I knew little about. Pakistan and Afghanistan intrigue me. I'm now reading The Bookseller of Kabul (wonderful too). I am eager to start Pennies for Peace at my children's elementary school. I'd like to think that our small efforts can make a change. Can we make a difference and how can we do so? Especially young children.

Greg Mortensen: Pennies for Peace has a website.

On the website find the link to TOOLKIT which we have developed over the last two years with the NEA and Pearson foundation which can be used in public or private schools.

www.penniesforpeace.org

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Arlington, Va.: It saddens me (though I am not surprised) to hear that you have received hate mail for your work to bring education to children. My question is, what can we do in the US to tackle this, which is our own brand of home-grown extremism? How do you personally tackle it?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Arlington.

Everywhere in the world - there will be people opposed to empowering women and giving children hope through education.

Children are exploited around the world, and there are over 110 million children deprived of education in the world due to slavery, poverty, religious extremism, corrupt governments and more. If we wanted to, we could eradicate global illiteracy (as part of the UN millennium goals) in 15 years with a (global) investment of $6 billion annually for 15 years. Sounds like a lot, but when compared to funds put into the military it is a drop in the bucket.

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Alexandria, Va.: Ok, with the Third Cup of Tea, you're family. With the Fourth Cup of Tea are you the annoying cousin who's crashed on the couch and won't leave?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Alexandria. Not sure what you mean by this.

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Columbia, Mo.: Do you know how many of the schools you've built have been bombed or otherwise damaged or destroyed since they were built, and of these, how many have been rebuilt? Have bombings intimidated some villages from rebuilding?

Greg Mortensen: In Afghanistan, over 500 schools have been destroyed since 2007 by the Taliban and other groups, and over 175 schools in Pakistan. I don't know exactly how many have been rebuilt, probably around 20%, but I do know that often after a school is destroyed it is often written off the government records and does not receive support. If you go back to the destroyed school several months later, one will often find those children are still trying to go to school with little help, and those are the schools who need the most support.

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Ocean View, Del.: How has your work or focus changed since your book was published, vis a vis the escalation of fighting and the bombing of the hotel?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Ocean View! Our focus remains the same, we work to promote education and literacy (and set up schools) in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan especially where there is no education, which is usually due to physical isolation, religious extremism or areas of war or conflict. Generally, these regions are in isolated pockets.

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Washington, D.C.: How wonderful it is to see Dr. Greg here! I loved the book and was gripped by it until the very end. I have spent my education studying the Middle East and feel so hopeful when I read stories such as yours. I am currently reading Ghost Wars. The history of the region is so fascinating and needs to be more widely known by Americans. The xenophobia against Muslims that is prevalent today, as evidenced by the hysteria when men in turbans fly on airplanes and when the president is derided in faceless e-mails as either an Arab or Muslim, makes me sad for us and our future with this cultured and diverse region. My question for you is that considering all the money that is pouring in from Saudi Arabia for madrassas and extremist teachings, have you been able to verify that your students are immunized against radicalization and become positive forces in their community or are your endeavors not enough to overcome the hatred that is embedded when it is US planes, bombs and soldiers that have killed their loved ones? I am afraid that no amount of "hearts and minds" campaigns can overcome the destruction we have caused for so many in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Greg Mortensen: Thanks D.C. and I appreciate your intimate understanding of the situation. Education certainly is not a fool-proof method or 'inoculation' against getting indoctinated into militancy (example 9/11 hijackers), however it does provide an alternative beyond the depravity that is rampant in a refugee camp, or region of impoverishment and illiteracy.

The real benefits of girls' education are realized one or two generations later.

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Arlington, Va.: Greg,

What happens to CAI if something happens to you? Do you have any plans for a transition? Are there others who can continue this work? So much of this seems dependent on your unique personality and skills -- how do we make this a broader movement?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Arlington. Good comment! We have worked for the last five years to set up a succession plan, hired an auditor CPA, reviewed all our by-laws and articles, and most of all, are moving to make all our schools sustainable.

After about 3-5 more years, we plan to have the organization without me, although I will always be an advocate and fundraiser for the rest of my life.

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St. John's, NL, Canada: Dear Mr. Mortenson, I was given your book for Christmas and read it a couple of weeks ago. It was very inspiring. Do the schools you have founded have computers? Would it be possible to write to the students and teachers to let them know that what they are doing is being talked about on the other side of the world? I am sitting here, almost 70 years old, wishing very much that I could tell them how wonderful it is to know they are anxious to learn. Thank you for making it possible for them to get an education.

Greg Mortensen: Thanks St. John. Only three of our schools have electricity and two have computers, but that will be rapidly changing in the next 5-10 years and soon you could be having a chat directly with students and teachers. Thank you for the wonderful note!

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Alexandria, Va.: My book club read your book and found the story certainly inspiring. A jarring note, though, was very unflattering portraits of your ex-girlfriend, and several potential donors who didn't come through.

If you wrote the book today, would you still include those very uncomplimentary sections, and why?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Alexandria. I tried to be as honest and open as I could and even share embarrasing and unpleasant moments in my life. It's not easy, and I guess I could have selectively picked what to write, but I think its important to share as much as I could.

Do you think in the next book, I should avoid any personal stories that might not be flattering? Please let me know

Thanks!

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McLean, Va.: What keeps you going? That is, how do you keep your energy replenished for this demanding work?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks McLean! What keeps me going is that I have two children and when I look into the eyes of my kids, I think we need to do everything we can to leave them all a legacy of peace.

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Easton, MD: Could you give us some idea of how the children's lives have changed now that they can be educated? Are they leaving their villages? Teaching others?

Greg Mortensen: Boys tend to leave villages and not come back, but girls tend to stay behind in their communities.

In Africa there is a proverb - if you educate a boy, you educate an individual, if you educate a girl you educate a community.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: I loved your book and so admire what you're doing. My book group read it, too. I'm wondering if you've been in touch with President Obama or if he's contacted you to include you in his outreach efforts.

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Florida, so far not in touch with Obama.

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Wheaton, Md.: Have you encountered more opposition from the Taliban in recent years? How do you deal with that opposition?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Wheaton.

The Taliban have only attacked one of our schools and the main reason is that our schools have so much local community support. Sometimes, our staff has to even meet with the Taliban (some who have daughters in our schools) to discuss this.

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Crofton, Md.: Our Book Club had a wonderful discussion of the book. As a retired Elementary School teacher and grandmother of 4, I was pleased to see the book made into a children's version when I was at a local Barnes and Noble. Are schools still being built? How has the "pennies for peace" campaign been doing?

Greg Mortensen: Yes, we are still building new schools (mostly for girls) more than ever because of the incredible support.

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Rexburg, Idaho: Thanks so much for sharing your experiences in Pakistan.

My university class is focused on Pakistan and is reading your book as we speak. I just would like to ask what would be the one greatest thing you have learned about the world from your experiences over the past 15 years?

Greg Mortensen: The most important thing I learned both from my father and Haji Ali, is that we should all respect each other, listen to each other and build relationships.

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Springfield, Va.: Enabling a country to help itself is perfect. Are Pakistan and Afghanistan making an effort to build girls' schools? Are they able to put other schools into operation in addition to what you are doing?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Springfield! Yes, Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to set up new schools but it's a slow process with the governments. We work very hard to leverage and encourage government involvement to put schools in rural areas.

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Arlington, Virginia: From your book and what you have been writing in answer to these questions, I gather that your own security and that of the schools you have helped build is safeguarded primarily--and perhaps most effectively--by the people you are helping and their leaders. And you are "protected" by the edict from Qum that you write about. Is that still in effect and how do you feel about security?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Arlington. Our best security is the relationships we have with local community elders. I do not bring any of my own protection anywhere, but occasionally some militia leaders provide armed gunmen, but for them it is more a matter of respect and hospitality to their guests.

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Centreville, Va.: I loved your book.

Do you think the plan to increase the U.S. troops in Afghanistan is good?

Are you writing another book?

Greg Mortensen: Having spoken to many Afghan leaders, commanders, militia leaders, tribal leaders and government officials, and even U.S. military commanders, I don't think we should rapidly deploy (which President Obama is advocating) 20,000+ more troops to Afghanistan, until this has been thoroughly discussed with Afghanistan's leaders. It will only escalate the violence.

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Arlington, Va.: When I read Three Cups of Tea, I was struck by the similarities between your story and that of John Wanda, the Arlington, Virginia, man originally from rural Uganda who saw his own children educated in the US at Arlington Traditional School, a county-wide public elementary school, and was inspired to found the Arlington Academy of Hope in Uganda.

Arlington Academy of Hope has been funded by small donors from the start, and is already making a huge difference in the lives of villagers in Uganda after just 4 or 5 years.

Do you have advice for those on a path similar to yours for how to expand and sustain what has initially been a very successful and valuable project?

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Arlington.

It's been a blessing to meet hundreds of people all over the world who are doing amazing things in many countries, and I think ultimately it is the small, grassroots initiatives that will ultimately make the biggest difference. ASANTE SANA (thanks in Swahili) for your work!

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Paris, France: Can you tell us a little bit about the first and subsequent schools you have established in Afghanistan, since your story in Three Cups of Tea ended right at the beginning of this new endeavor? In your estimation, about how many children per year are taught in all of the schools you have built? I would also like to say thank you, to you, and to all the people who have helped you on your life's mission, for the truly wonderful and inspiring things you have accomplished.

Greg Mortensen: Merci Beaucoup! Three Cups of Tea book ends in 2003, so we have made tremendous progress since then and continue to build more schools and promote education initiatives for girls. I'm writing another book, Stones Into Schools, which will be published by Penguin in about a year, which is more about Afghanistan.

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Springfield, Va.: Thank you so very much for participating in the live discussion and for continuing your work for the schools. I have given your book to my Grandchildren. Hopefully they can learn from it and perhaps your attitude and skills will spread to the young people here.

Greg Mortensen: Thank you Springfield. It was a joy to create the Young Readers' "Three Cups of Tea" and children's book "Listen To The Wind" and we involved hundreds of teachers, students and even my own children. The real hope for peace in the future is in our children.

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Omaha, Neb.: In your book you refer to Saudi Arabia providing "under the table" funding for the Taliban... Why does the US continue to call Saudi Arabia a "friend" when they are supporting the terrorists? (I am imagining some of the money is from the US appetite for oil)

Greg Mortensen: Thanks Omaha! Good question, since unfortunately it is our oil purchases that eventually work their way into funding terrorism. The Saudi- USA relationship goes way back to the 1940's when President Roosevelt met with King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and they signed a pact that Saudi Arabia would provide USA with oil and we would provide them with protection.

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Washington, D.C. : Keep including the unflattering stories. It makes your experience "real" and one that others can relate to. I know that when we all set out on a journey, not everything happens according to plan, and those stories happen to reflect the true difficulty it takes to establish a school. And I think that is an important moral for young readers.

Greg Mortensen: Thanks D.C.! It's hard to share personal, sometimes embarrassing moments or 'unflattering stories', but I think it's important. Notice in Three Cups of Tea that the first chapter was called "FAILURE" which the publisher did not want me to use for a title. We all make mistakes and we all fail, and that is often where our greatest successes come from.

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Greg Mortensen: Thank you everyone for participating in this Washington Post live chat. It has been an honor and I appreciate your questions, comments and feedback. Blessings of Peace.

Greg Mortenson

www.threecupsoftea.com book

www.ikat.org Central Asia Institute nonprofit

www.penniesforpeace.org children's program

When Your Heart Speaks, Take Good Notes!

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