Author’s crusade in Central Asia resonates in Glenwood area |

Author’s crusade in Central Asia resonates in Glenwood area

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kelley Cox

Greg Mortenson went to Pakistan for the mountains. He returned over and over, he says, for the people.This week, Mortenson came to the mountains of the Roaring Fork Valley to share with its people the story of the work he has done to help get schools built in Pakistan and elsewhere in Central Asia.It’s a message that resonated locally, at places such as Colorado Mountain College, where so many people turned up for an afternoon presentation Wednesday that many had to be turned away from the standing-room-only auditorium at the Spring Valley Campus.There, Mortenson shared photos of the dramatic landscape of the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan, and the dramatic story of his efforts to try to help educate the young people living there – especially girls.Education and land ownership, Mortenson said, are essential first steps to trying to build a democracy in Pakistan, a country that recently was placed under emergency rule by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

“I think things might get worse before they get better” in Pakistan, Mortenson predicted.But he also offered a message of hope for places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan – hope rooted in the promise of education, and the desire of communities and their young to improve their opportunities for schooling.Mortenson’s work trying to help fulfill such desires dates back to 1993, when he made an unsuccessful and physically draining bid to climb K2, the world’s second-highest mountain. He ended up being nursed back to health by residents of a nearby village where he promised to raise money for a school. He overcame years of challenges to accomplish that goal, but his Central Asia Institute since has gone on to build a total of 64 schools.Communities in the region also are making classrooms out of makeshift shelters such as former army personnel carriers and steel shipping containers, Mortenson said. He knows of students who went back to school two hours after shells struck their village. He has seen girls who walk an hour and a half each way to attend school outside, where every time the wind knocks down their blackboard they resolutely put it back up again.”To me that only symbolizes the fierce desire to have the opportunity to go on to school,” he said.

He thinks one of the great, unheralded success stories of Afghanistan is that school enrollment has increased by six times since the ouster of the Taliban there.Mortenson has worked to help spread the word about his educational mission in Central Asia by co-authoring the book “Three Cups of Tea,” a reference to a saying that strangers become friends over their second cup of tea, and family over their third.The book, a New York Times best-seller, was chosen for the “One Book, One Town – Everybody Reads” program at Gordon Cooper Library in Carbondale this fall. This week, Mortenson spoke at several school and community venues in Carbondale, along with appearing at CMC.”Everywhere I go we’ve been having more people (turn out) than we ever expected,” Mortenson told his CMC audience Wednesday.Lauren Bishop, a CMC freshman, said she was inspired by Mortenson’s message, including the importance of educating women in Central Asia if things are going to change there.

“It kind of got me riled up,” Bishop said of Mortenson’s presentation.June Robinson of Glenwood Springs said Mortenson opened her eyes to the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The American public only hears certain things about such places from the U.S. government, she said.”It widened my expectations about what we can do, versus what we do right now, which is fighting,” she said.Mortenson said the United States is a very polarized nation politically. But he added, “I think all of us can agree that education is a very worthwhile investment.”More information about Mortenson’s efforts may be found at, and

Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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