Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time (2006) is a book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, published by Penguin Books. The book details the author’s (Mortenson’s) shift from mountaineering to a humanitarian mission aimed at reducing poverty levels and championing for girls’ education in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Following his newfound passion, he co-founded the Central Asia Institute, a humanitarian organization that has grown over the years and as at 2010, had supervised the construction of more than 171 schools. These schools educate more than 64,000 children, mostly girls, in isolated areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In 1993, Greg Mortenson, an expert mountaineer, tried to scale K2, the world’s second highest mountain, located in the northern area of the Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. He wanted to achieve this feat as a tribute to his sister, Christa, who had passed on earlier, and had intended to place her necklace on the top of K2. After being on the mountain for more than 70 days, Mortenson and his fellow mountaineers had their climb disrupted as they required to complete a 3-day life-saving exercise to assist a member of their team.
Mortenson then lost his way while descending K2 and became emaciated after wandering through mountain, by good luck, he came across Korphe village, where he was welcomed warmly and taken in by the village chief. To show his gratitude for their kindness and generosity, Mortenson undertook to construct a school for the villagers. He encountered financial constraints, but was later introduced to Jean Hoerni, a silicon transistor pioneer who contributed money that was required to build the school.
Hoerni later became the co-founder of Central Asia Institute (CAI) before his death on January 12, 1997. The CAI was charged with constructing schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson faced major difficulties in his quest to promote girl education, especially in funding the construction of more than 55 schools in Taliban-controlled areas. Other challenges included intimidation by the Islamic fighters, long durations of being away from his family, and abduction. Mortenson reflects on the situation of the world after 9/11 and asserts that extremism in the region can be prevented through a joint effort to lessen poverty and increase literacy levels, particularly for girls. Previously, educational institutions had targeted boys, but because learned boys tend to move to the cities to look for job opportunities, they hardly ever come back.
However, learned girls are likely to remain in the village and use the skills acquired at school to improve livelihoods. Hence, Mortenson proposes that educating girls has a more permanent advantage to the community (Mortenson & Relin, pp. 122).
Three Cups of Tea presents an extraordinary account of bravery and compassion. The authors present several points of interest to the reader based on normative statements and politics against a background of cultural discourse that is being used to justify the continuing war on terrorism by America and its allies. Mortenson’s activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan are vital to our perception of how humanitarian activists, policy makers, and the common person can assist the disadvantaged in the simplest of ways, it also enables us to understand the regions where Mortenson’s intervened, and its people. With stability and elegance that is synonymous with business executives and politicians, the authors reveal the problems of terrorism and firmly suggest a solution in form of the school-building program. Despite countering extensive disapproval of his activities due to strict Muslim beliefs on girl child education, Mortenson sends a strong message that education is the solution to the world’s enemies: poverty, diseases and war. And he begins the dangerous journey from Pakistan into Afghanistan, coming across many challenges, mostly military, including an abduction in Waziristan. He manages to convince the locals to buy his ideas, and slowly, they begin to accept his vision of an educated society. The book reveals Mortenson’s patience and stability at ensuring that he fulfils his mission.
On the downside, the book does not question the idea of a ‘humanitarian’ intervention by an imperial power such as the US; it simply discusses the mode of such intervention- that any military intervention should go together with humanitarian acts, which would benefit the local community and the US and its allies. The authors do not comment on the US’ previous military interventions and their outcomes, or any assessments of America’s intentions and interests in the region. The authenticity of Washington’s humanitarian intervention is a matter that sends mixed signals to the inhabitants of these areas. Politics and international relations aside, the book is a must read for sociologists in order to understand how simple acts can have a domino effect towards solving the problems that we currently face.
From the first journey towards triumphing over the world’s tallest mountains in the harshest environments, Mortenson revisits his roots, fighting strict religious forms, to create a society of literate boys and girls.
Mortenson, Greg and Relin, David Oliver. Three Cups of Tea. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.