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Senior Correspondent

Raising Hope in a War-Torn Region

Book Review

But for a strange quirk of fate, Greg Mortenson probably would never have written "Three Cups of Tea." In the early 1990s while climbing K2, he fell and was critically injured. With care from Pakistanis living in a small, isolated village, he regained his strength and began his long walk home. Grateful for their help, he promised to return to help build a school for their children.

He was given entrée to each tribal leader he met along the way, and it was customary when they met to have "three cups of tea" during these visits. Councils of elders increased Mortenson's conviction for the great need for schools. His success and ongoing support empowered other villagers to begin to build schools and enable girls as well as boys to be educated in the heart of Taliban country.

"Stones into Schools" continues the story of Mortenson's efforts. While he was organizing construction of schools in Pakistan, a group of Afghans approached him about building schools in the secluded northeast area of their country. Recruiting local workers with funds from the Central Asia Institute (CAI), a nonprofit agency Mortenson had founded, he and his crew built more than 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, most of them for girls. Many of these schools were later destroyed by militant Taliban actions and the devastating earthquake in October 2005. After the quake, he and CAI helped rebuild numerous damaged schools. Currently, he advises the U.S. military, and his books are assigned reading in many university classes.

Mortenson's humanitarianism permeates his writing with a clear message about the importance of these schools. For almost 20 years, his projects have had a meaningful impact on the lives of people living in those countries. His stories come alive as he writes of their struggles.

He retains a significant involvement in the education of Middle Eastern children through his school-building efforts, his books, and the help of funds from CAI. Although he now makes only infrequent visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan, his time is filled with speaking engagements and fundraising from his Montana home, where he lives with his wife and two children.

These two books give readers an intimate view of the yearnings for education of those living in that underdeveloped, war-ravaged region.

After raising three children, Phyllis Cairns has spent the past 30-plus years in publishing as project manager, editor, and proofreader. She lives at ABHOW's Pilgrim Haven Retirement Community in Los Altos, Calif.

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