Welcome to The Kettle!

Primarily, "The Kettle" publicizes and manages the "Three Cups of Tea Book Project." However, as described in our very first post (click here), we also hope to use "The Kettle" as a medium for individuals interested in social issues to become more aware of the lives of those less fortunate. Ideally, whatever we write or publish here will take that nascent concern and transform it into action. To inspire any action, small or large, in the genuine interest of doing better for the world is our ultimate goal.

Though heavily slanted towards Pakistan and Afghanistan presently, we do try to include news, opinions, and reference materials regarding diverse topics, including poverty, reconstruction, human rights, Africa, "Green" developments, Micro Finance, and other solutions and considerations for what are essentially man made problems in the world. In the universe of charitable options, we endorse and support multigenerational solutions and initiatives for multigenerational problems.

The education made possible by the Central Asia Institute is one such solution, but there are certainly others. We encourage the commitment of resources and people that goes beyond merely "patriarchal" handouts to the multitude of people in need. We agree that it is good to charitable, but charity that only treats the symptoms and not the root causes has proven to be insufficient. A consistent commitment to work with the local communities of people in need to provide and/or improve education, nutrition, access to capital, human rights, security, sustainable development/redevelopment, and environmental stewardship are what will lead to an enduring improvement in people's lives.

If you have any questions, general comments, and suggestions for improvements, please leave a comment on any of the posts below, and we'll follow up with you!

The Kettle's shared items

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thoughts on Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson

I just finished reading "Stones into Schools," the follow up book to "Three Cups of Tea," and I highly recommend it to anyone who has read "The Cups of Tea" by David Orlin and Greg Mortenson. Relative to "Three Cups of Tea," "Stones into Schools" takes on a more personal and gripping tone, as Greg Mortenson himself picks up the pen and continues the story from where "Three Cups of Tea" ended. In "Stones into Schools," the reader gets a glimpse of the many, at times ridiculous, challenges faced by the CAI and Greg Mortenson in growing their operations in Afghanistan while fundraising in the United States (and elsewhere) and continuing their mission in Pakistan. The stories recounted in the book really show how the Central Asia Institute is not your run of the mill NGO. Rather, the CAI shines in providing a vital service to the people at "the end of the road," where not even the local federal governments venture, let alone foreign NGO's.

That said, the book is only partly about the CAI and Greg Mortenson. Always inclined to focus the attention on others, rather than himself, Greg Mortenson spends much of the book detailing stories of admirable determination and sacrifice demonstrated by his motley staff of local Pakistanis and Afghans. There were several moments when reading this book that I found myself truly touched and inspired by the valor and nobility of these men, who Greg Mortenson affectionately refers to as the "Dirty Dozen." At the very least, anyone who reads the book, should gain some perspective and inspiration for dealing with the challenges in his or her life.

A big criticism of the CAI, which was explicitly highlighted in "Three Cups of Tea," was that without Greg Mortenson, everything the CAI has done would unravel. However, after reading "Stones into School," one is left with the distinct impression that it is now the local Afghan and Pakistani administrators and directors of CAI who are making the greatest contributions to the mission of female literacy. Despite Mr. Mortenson having to spend the majority of his time these days raising money and awareness in the United States for CAI's mission, the CAI has managed to push forward. The CAI has built and currently support over 130 schools in the region. They achieved this success despite unforgiving climates and terrain, limited resources and infrastructure, a complicated political landscape, natural disasters, federal corruption and bureaucracy, Taliban reprisals, pervasive drug trafficking, and widely publicized civilian deaths from U.S./NATO military attacks.

Perhaps the greatest personal appeal of Greg Mortenson, and why I think "Three Cups of Tea" has been so successful, is his fundamentally human imperfection. Far from trying to justify everything he is doing, Mr. Mortenson candidly expresses his doubts, guilt, and physical inabilities. He spends some time questioning whether he has lost some level of commitment to the communities he has helped by now spending most of his time in the West. Then again, who is perfect? Who doesn't have doubts? This is reality. This magnetic appeal extends to many characters in the book. The title of the book, "Stones into Schools," is coined from a speech made by a former mujahideen commander who has spent the majority of his life in vicious combat, and who has probably had to be complicit in opium trafficking in order to provide and protect his community. The story of the CAI and the people of the region is not a fictional novel or fairy tale about uncompromising superhumans moving mountains with sheer force of will. Rather, it is about ordinary, flawed people who have to pick up each stone one by one in order to build a better future. It is fitting that Mr. Mortenson describes the "Dirty Dozen" as "underqualified overachievers," because to me, that description would fit him as well. It only seems natural that he would find some kindred spirits during his noble campaign in Central Asia.

Finally, as someone in America who will probably never have the courage and stamina to do the good work that the CAI does in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I feel that the least I can do is give some financial support for a mission that ultimately benefits us all. Despite all the problems in this world, I become hopeful and thankful when I see people like Greg Mortenson and his staff and organizations like the CAI. In summary, I highly recommend this book. It is essentially a story of regular people doing what they can, which in combination amounts to a great sea of change in the middle of what had been a barren dessert.

-- The Kettle Rumbles
PS. You can buy the book here: http://www.stonesintoschools.com/ and a portion of the proceeds will go directly to supporting the CAI's work.

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