torsdag 21 april 2011

Stones into Schools: a review of a book and the work of many miracles of humanity

This is an incredible book, and this review not particularly impartial. Go buy it. Now. I mean, you can read the review too, if you have nothing else to do, but really, just go buy it.

The drive and intent to help the world takes all manner of strange manifestations. Some good, some bad; some brilliant, some misplaced. Some manifested out of ego; some out of genuine and selfless altruism. In 2009, it´s calculated that there were about 250 000 aid workers out there. The aid world is a multi-billion dollar industry, and sad to say, a circus that some are in for the money. The main part of them though, are incredibly brave people who try to help others, often in places and during times when things could be worse, but it´s hard to figure out exactly how.

Stones into Schools describes the work of Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute. The first part of his story can be found in the book Three Cups of Tea, but simply put, he tried to climb Mount Everest back in the 90´s, kinda failed, got lost, ended up in a small, local village where they treated him as a returning family member since that was the culture they had with guests, and then he listened to them talk about how much they wanted a school for their children.

And Greg Mortenson kinda found himself promising they would get their school. They did, eventually, but only after first having to build a bridge to get the building materials across to the village.

From this, the idea was born to build schools all over Pakistan. Not only schools, but schools in the places that follow once you keep going from where the map says ”End of the road”. Not only schools, but schools focused on increasing girls´ and women´s literacy, letting the local community guide everything and with deals with the elders that the school must eventually have at least 50% female students. Usually they end up having much more.

Not only schools, but, over time, an honors program that takes the best and brightest and gives them grants for further studies, often to doctor, nurse or teacher, which they then head back with to help out communities on the edge of the world, people forgotten even by the nation they are in, let alone the rest of the planet.

Not only schools, but life, literacy, and future.

At the moment, female literacy in rural Afghanistan continues to languish in the single digits. In rural Pakistan, the figures are a little higher, but not by much. The demand for schools, teachers, books, desks, notebooks, uniforms, chalkboards, paper and pencils in these two Islamic nations is immense, and the benefits of American investment in this ”intellectual infrastructure” are indisputably clear. Nothing that has happened since my unsuccessful attempt to climb K2 – including 9/11 – has changed my conviction that promoting female literacy represents the best way forward for Pakistan and for Afghanistan.
Education is one of the many basic values that Amerians of all faiths share with Muslim people everywhere.”

Stones into Schools details something even bigger than this (if that´s possible to conceive). In it, we follow Greg Mortenson in his work in Pakistan...and how it slowly starts to tip over into Afghanistan. Suddenly, he and his very small staff of brave people are helping communitites to build schools in Afghanistan...even into areas still controlled by the Taliban. Not only schools: hope.

And in the middle of this, the Kirghiz turn up. They want to have help with building a school in one of the most inaccessible places on the planet, the Wakhan Corridor ( You want to have fun? Try zooming in really close).

When word had reached Abdul Rashid Khan (the leader of the Kirghiz, blog writer´s addition) that the American school builder was scheduled to pay a visit to the Charpurson Valley, he had sent out a platoon of his strongest riders and his swiftest horses to find this man and ask if he would consider coming into Afghanistan to build schools for the sons and the daughers of the Kirghiz.”

Stones into Schools talks about Mortenson´s very clear hope – and there really is hope: here is someone who´s heart and fire burn like a beacon – his very clear hope to save whole generations of children and young people and give them the chance for a future for themselves and for communities torn by decades of war and sundered by earthquake, religious intolerance and bad governments.

It really is an astounding read, a brilliant read, a read with great compassion.

For myself, I think it might be the best book I have read in quite some time.

And if you wish, you can donate to their work here:

Added: two videos, one incredible video showing the tour to one of the schools:

And one with an interview with Greg Mortenson on his incredible work. Part 1 and 2.