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Author Event: Greg Mortenson (Author of Three Cups of Tea)

Last Tuesday I accompanied my mom to see Greg Mortenson. The event was originally going to be held at a Barnes and Noble store but because they were anticipating a huge crowd, the event was moved to an auditorium at John Jay College on the West Side of Manhattan. His newest book, Stones into Schools, was released that same day.

I haven’t read Three Cups of Tea, but my mom led a book club at her elementary school recently, in which the selected students (members of her own Principal’s Book Club) read the young reader’s edition of that book. As a result, the kids came out all the way from Brooklyn, their own books in hand, to see the author. They were all pretty excited. Some parents and teachers also came. And interestingly enough, they were the only kids in the audience.

I’m including pictures and even some video from the evening below. Let me preface all this by saying that it was quite inspiring to hear the author speak. He made so many interesting points. And to think …he did it all on his own. And now he’s passing on those values to his own kids…and us as well!

So who is Greg Mortenson? And why all the fuss over his books and what he does?

In a nutshell (from his website):  In July 1992, Mortenson’s sister, Christa, died from a massive seizure after a lifelong struggle with epilepsy on the eve of a trip to visit Dysersville, Iowa, where the baseball movie, ‘Field of Dreams’, was filmed in a cornfield. To honor his sister’s memory, in 1993, Mortenson climbed Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain in the Karakoram range. While recovering from the climb in a village called Korphe, Mortenson met a group of children sitting in the dirt writing with sticks in the sand, and made a promise to help them build a school. From that rash promise, grew a remarkable humanitarian campaign, in which Mortenson has dedicated his life to promote education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. As of 2009, Mortenson has established or significantly supports 131 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 58,000 children, including 44,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before.

Furthermore, Three Cups of Tea, which tells his remarkable story, is “required reading for U.S. senior military commanders, for officers in the Norwegian War College, Forsvarsnett, for U.S. Special Forces deploying to Afghanistan, Pentagon officers in counter-insurgency training, and Canadian Defense Ministry members. The book has been read by General David Petraeus – CENTCOM Commander, Admiral Mike Mullen – Chairman Joint Chief of Staff, and Admiral Eric Olson – SOCOM Special Forces commander, and several other U.S. military commanders who advocate for building relationships as a part of an overall strategic plan for peace. Mortenson has addressed the National Defense Senior Leadership Conference at the Pentagon, visited over two dozen military bases, NORAD, and been to the Air Force, Naval and West Point Academies.”

Now on to the event!

I was given video-and-picture duty for the course of the evening. So once we got seated, the event started with a few musical selections by a bagpiper. He was introduced by the author’s own son:

Soon after, Greg Mortenson took the stage to a rousing standing ovation. Below is a video of him talking about his childhood and what values his own father instilled in him, and he also mentioned the fact that at the moment of this particular event, President Obama was letting the nation know about the future actions to be taken in Afghanistan. He also talks about Three Cups of Tea and the two different subtitles for the book, plus some more insight.

And next, he gave the audience an understanding of what is going on in Afghanistan: a mini-social studies lesson (with a little help from his son):

Greg Mortenson then went on to recount about his organizations and how the funding happened and how the schools first got built. He also talks about Pennies for Peace, and how it encourages young people to go out and do actual good work.

Finally, last video: Greg Mortenson telling stories about the man who took him in on that fateful day when he got lost, and stories about opening schools for girls. One very amusing stories about how local leaders were convinced to have a high school for girls built and what the requirement was.

Here are some more interesting tidbits from the event:

The author greatly believes in educating girls and here’s why:

The author made a great case about this and it totally makes sense. At one point he recounted the story of one woman who went to school to be educated as a midwife. Originally, in her village, a few women would die every year from childbirth—it was the norm. When that woman came back to her village, not one woman died under her care. Furthermore, the importance of educating girls is that when the men go off and fight, the only people left are the women, leaving the children and the old and sick in their care.

And on another note:

Finally, the moment the kids were waiting for: meeting the author and getting their books signed. My mom had actually brought a small scrapbook to give to the author with pictures of the book club, and even a song written by one of the girls. They had even raised money for Pennies for Peace. All the kids were standing there eagerly awaiting there turn and then when my mom had mentioned that all these kids were from her school and her book club, the author was more than kind enough to take some pictures. Look at all those smiles and especially that one girl just leaning on Mr. Mortenson!

Those kids were so excited about meeting him that when we left the auditorium, I heard them saying things like “Dad, I do not want to wash this hand! I shook his hand!” and just general squeals of happiness. I could tell this was like meeting a celebrity to them. They were already talking about the final project that they had to do in school with this book, and how they were going to invite their parents to the presentation and have tea with their families.

We left the event a bit exhausted but I have a feeling I will be reading Three Cups of Tea sometime soon now. It also left me with the feeling that yes, one person can make a true difference in this world.

In case you’re interested in more information about the two organizations he founded: Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace

(Book covers link to book descriptions)

4 comments to Author Event: Greg Mortenson (Author of Three Cups of Tea)

  • AMAZING post! i’ve got this one on my to-read pile and will now definitely read it before the year’s end. i continue to hear good things about this book and person. thanks for sharing your experience and video coverage. i enjoyed the bagpipes and will sit down to the talks at home tonight. interesting to read that the book is “required reading” for some.

  • JG

    I’ve been resisting this book just because it seems to be everywhere. After reading your post, I’m going to have to add it to my pile.

    This reminds me of a quote from Robert Fulghum:

    “”Never, ever regret or apologize for believing that when one man or one woman decides to risk addressing the world with truth, the world may stop what it is doing and hear. There is too much evidence to the contrary.”

  • Mom

    It’s been a while since the event and I am proud to report that all the kids, and their parents, who attended, consider it a highlight of their life as readers. The Principal’s Book Club presented their projects to a large audience of students and parents. We shared a slide show from meeting Greg Mortenson (curtesy of our photographer that attended with us)and from the actual book club meetings. Just wanted to add that our school joined the CAI led by Mortenson and contributed fundraised money to this organization. We were inspired! Also, I want to thank JG for the quote above.

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