Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Really Productive Flake


Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan
by Greg Mortenson

Perhaps you have read Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson's previous bestseller about his efforts to bring education to some of the most remote areas of Pakistan. I liked that book, but I think Stones into Schools, which chronicles the expansion of his efforts into Afghanistan, is even better. One thought that kept coming to me in Three Cups of Tea, was "This guy is a flake." I don't mean that in a pejorative way, really - just that he was not someone who had a lot of resources at his disposal to begin with. He lived out of his car for a time while he was raising the money to build his first school. He was quite naive about the logistical difficulties of getting supplies to some of these outposts. Everything took a frustratingly long time to get accomplished. His preoccupation with the work "over there" took some toll on his having things all together here.

I think we need more flakes. He may be a bit of a doofus, but his heart is in the right place and he has gotten some amazing stuff done. One aspect of flakehood is to be able to step forward in faith, believing that you can make something happen before all the details are figured out. Mortenson has been able to penetrate some of the most reserved and conservative enclaves of the Muslim world and form relationships with some of their most seemingly inflexible leaders. By working within these relationships, he is providing education and opportunity to hundreds of kids, the majority of them girls. I absolutely believe that education and jobs are the way to address the hopelessness and despair that lead to Islamic extremism. Mortenson is banking on that, and I think we will see positive results from his work sooner rather than later.

Mortenson has gotten more savvy as he has learned "how things work" in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has learned to work around some of the most egregious roadblocks, and he is extraordinarily patient and persistent. He does sometimes give in to a corrupt system, and seems to have no qualms about bribing people do what he wants/needs them to do. That part bothers me, but I suppose he has decided that the ends justify the means, and he will do whatever it takes (within reason) to get schools built. The corruption is troubling to me, but I am not sure that in his shoes I would not find myself compromising some of my standards if is meant providing another village with a teacher and a schoolhouse. He is living with and working out some of the ethical dilemmas that for so many of us never get beyond the hypothetical stage.

Stone into Schools is a great read - hopeful and inspiring. It also causes me to prayerfully consider what I can do with my one puny and flaky life for the good of people in need.

Reverent Reader

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